ESPN could quit UK

ESPN is considering its position internationally and could even withdraw from certain markets if it cannot be profitable in those areas, Disney chairman and chief executive Bob Iger told investors. That includes the UK, where the broadcaster holds rights to show live matches from the Barclays Premier League and FA Cup.

During the announcement of the company's first quarter financial results, Iger also claimed that ESPN's main focus was on the US and that everywhere else was less of a concern. "ESPN’s international business has never been particularly large, nor has it been a huge priority for the company," he said.

"They’re going to continue to look at those opportunities with an eye toward determining whether they have the ability to grow or, in some cases, become profitable or, if not, potentially exit those markets. That’s not to say they we’re going to get out of international, but I think ESPN is likely to be selective about their presence there."

ESPN's leaving the UK isn't likely to happen soon, with the station committed to broadcasting the FA Cup and Premier League until the end of the 2013/14 football season. However, it does face valid opposition from more than just BSkyB when the TV rights go up for auction again soon. The Qatari-family owned Al Jazeera is expected to be a major competitor in the bidding process and has the wealth to make things uncomfortable for Disney.

Therefore, ESPN is reconsidering its position in the UK, as it doesn't have the financial clout to enter into a bidding war.

"It’s tough going for them because they’re frequently competing with local or locally owned and controlled platform owners that are going after sports almost as loss leaders to drive subscriptions to their platforms," Iger said.

"It’s kind of tough to be as aggressive buying live sports. So the opportunities for ESPN internationally, I think, are somewhat limited. Not to say that they don’t exist, but it’s never going to be a big part of ESPN’s business."

Pic: Joe Faraoni, Copyright (c) 2011 ESPN, Inc. All rights reserved.