Setanta suffers as ESPN wins Premier League

Setanta also hit with new blow as it loses rights to Scottish football

The Irish broadcaster Setanta missed a deadline to pay £10m to the Premiership PA

Setanta moved another step closer to the brink last night after losing the rights to show Scottish football next season, just as the Premier League south of the border was awarding its former contract to the US-backed broadcaster ESPN.

The English Premier League said ESPN has been awarded Setanta's rights to screen 46 games next season, after the Irish broadcaster failed to meet last Friday's deadline to pay £10m for permission to broadcast the cream of English football .

Setanta has been locked in talks to avoid administration since it missed a routine £3m payment to the Scottish Premier League earlier this month. Yesterday, the SPL, which had already pushed back the deadline several times in the hope that Setanta could raise the necessary funds, declared that enough was enough after Setanta missed a final deadline of 1pm.

Lex Gold, the executive chairman of the SPL, said: "Setanta has been unable to meet our extended deadline for the outstanding £3m payment to the SPL and, in terms of the notice previously issued, our British broadcasting rights for season 2009-10 and beyond revert to us. We are now actively engaging in the process of selling our domestic broadcasting rights for next season and beyond."

The Dublin-based group first won the rights to screen Scottish football in 2004. Last year, it agreed to extend the contract until 2014 in a deal worth £125m. A source close to the SPL said: "The problems facing Setanta is not just bad news for them it is bad news for sport."

South of the border, Setanta's failure last week to complete a £30m payment to the English Premier League prompted an auction of its two packages of rights to 23 games.

The league announced yesterday that it had sold those packages to Disney-owned sports broadcaster ESPN for next season. ESPN will also take on Setanta's package for the following three seasons.

Lynne Frank, ESPN's managing director in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said it was "delighted" at landing the rights and added: "This is a huge step for our business."

The broadcaster has two channels in the UK, ESPN America and Classic. ESPN said it would make the Premier League coverage available across several pay-TV platforms, with BSkyB the first to commit. It hopes for similar deals with Virgin, Top Up and BT.

That leaves Setanta with just the FA Cup and the Blue Square Premier League, the highest non-league division in terms of football coverage. The loss of its two biggest football packages is likely to decimate the group's 1.2 million subscribers, many of whom will quit the broadcaster, even assuming it can survive this crisis.

That looks increasingly unlikely. One insider said: "The directors need to bring this uncertainty to an end."

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