BT Sport ESPN
The channel launched on 3 August 2009 following ESPN’s acquisition of partial UK broadcast rights to the Premier League six weeks prior, caused in turn by the financial difficulties of Setanta Sports, which ceased broadcasting in Great Britain at about the same time. It marked ESPN’s first foray into live coverage of domestic sports events in the UK. Prior to August 2009, ESPN’s only operations in the UK were archive sports channel ESPN Classic, as well as the pan-European ESPN America channel, which focused on North American sport.
On 13 June 2012, it was announced that ESPN had missed out on Premier League broadcast rights from the 2013–14 to 2015–16 season to Sky Sports and BT, despite making a “strong bid”. The news followed speculation that ESPN was reconsidering its position in the UK. In the following months, ESPN also lost the rights to Premiership Rugby, Premiership Rugby Sevens Series and American, Brazilian, French and Italian top-flight football to BT. On 1 February 2013, Broadcast reported that ESPN had entered talks to sell off its remaining sports rights, believed to be worth more than £15m. During The Walt Disney Company’s first quarter earnings results conference call on 5 February 2013, Disney’s chief financial officer Jay Rasulo confirmed that ESPN had “experienced losses” in the UK and was “exploring an exit”. On 25 February 2013, BT agreed to acquire ESPN’s UK and Ireland TV channels business, consisting of ESPN and ESPN America. BT continue to broadcast ESPN since the deal’s completion date of 31 July, as part of its BT Sport package of services. The value of the deal had not been disclosed, but BT was understood to be paying “low tens of millions”.
In January 2015, BT reached a long-term rights deal with ESPN, allowing the network to maintain its affiliation with ESPN International and its rights to sports properties owned by ESPN outright or to which it holds international rights, as well as its original programmes. On 9 June 2015, BT rebranded the channel as BT Sport ESPN.