BT buys ESPN's UK and Irish TV channels

BT, purveyor of telephones, broadband and TV services, has announced that it is to buy ESPN's UK TV channels. The deal will allow BT to broadcast at least one ESPN-branded TV channel, as well as access several US sports, including NCAA College Basketball and NCAA College [Amercian] Football along with NASCAR.

In UK sports terms, it will mean that BT will have the rights to 69 Aviva Premiership Rugby matches, 38 live Barclays Premier League matches and coverage of the Clydesdale Bank Scottish Premier League.

It's interesting to note that this purchase comes after BT outbid ESPN for access to the live premiership rights that the Disney-owned broadcaster holds until next year.

BT recently paid more than £700 million for access to 38 games out of the 154 available - Sky has the other 116, for which it paid in excess of £2bn. The huge increase in bidding amounts means that each Premier League match now costs £6.5million.

Disney revealed in an earnings report earlier this year that it had "experienced losses" in its UK business, and we had previously reported that the firm might leave the UK

The move could see BT getting an important foothold into sports broadcasting. With ESPN comes a very recognisable name that has been broadcasting in the UK for some time now, and has been a giant in US sports broadcasting for many years.

With BT's YouView box and additional subscription channels there's the potential here for the firm to challenge Sky's dominance. It could cause big upsets in a few years' time if BT plonks down the extra few billion quid to get more matches from Sky. It might sound unlikely, but BT is arguably one of only a few companies with the money to challenge the current incumbent.

READ: YouView from BT review

ESPN in the US will continue to run its sports websites ESPN.com and its mobile and on-demand video sites. BT has also explained that, separate to its deal, ESPN classic will close across Europe and the firm has indicated that it will wind down all of its TV channels outside the UK.