Broadcasters to bid for Setanta games

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The Independent Online

Broadcasters were given a deadline of today to lodge bids to buy the rights to 46 Premier League games which have been taken away from troubled Irish firm Setanta.

BSkyB and US-broadcaster ESPN are expected to buy rights to 23 games each, although they may face competition from digital pay TV service Top Up TV.

Interested parties must submit their bids today, although it is thought the sums they will offer for the rights may fall below what Setanta was paying.

The beleaguered firm lost the right to broadcast the matches on Friday after failing to meet a deadline for a £10 million payment to the Premier League - the latest chunk of the £30 million it owes to them.

BSkyB is expected to buy Setanta's package of Monday night Premier League games, as it has already won the rights to broadcast these from 2010/2011.

However, EU legislation means it cannot own all the rights, making it likely that ESPN will pick up the Saturday teatime games.

Setanta was unable to meet its payment deadline following the collapse of a potential deal with US tycoon Len Blavatnik's Access Industries.

The deal, which was thought to be worth £20 million, would have seen Access Industries buy a 51 per cent stake in the broadcaster, but it failed to go ahead after "a number of issues" were not resolved in time.

Meanwhile, the management of Setanta is understood to be meeting this weekend to look at ways to save the company.

Deloitte has been lined up to act as administrator if the firm, which employs 430 people, fails.

If the company did go into administration it would lead to broadcasting rights for a host of sporting events becoming available, including FA Cup matches, England games and the Scottish Premier League.

Setanta has around 1.2 million subscribers, but this is below the 1.9 million it needs to break even and it is currently thought to be running at a loss of nearly £100 million a year.

It suspended new subscriptions earlier this month, prompting fears over the future of the business, and recently also missed a £3 million payment to the Scottish Premier League.