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Premiership give Setanta until Friday

last updated Tuesday 16th June 2009, 2:31 PM

The Premier League has stepped up the pressure on Setanta, the sports broadcaster facing insolvency, by issuing a tender for the group’s 46 live, top-flight football matches and setting Friday as a deadline for payment.

The league said it “would like to provide Setanta with as much time as possible to rearrange its finances” but noted that the start of the 2009-10 season was “two months away”.

If Setanta does not meet a £10m payment on Friday its existing licence agreement with the Premier League will be terminated.

Loss of these rights could be fatal for Setanta, as Premier League football is the main attraction for many subscribers. The company could face a wave of cancellations if it loses its contracts. The football authority has set the bid deadline for Monday next week but prospective bidders will be given notice on Friday if Setanta meets conditions.

In the existing set-up, applicable from 2007-10, the Premier League sold four of the six packages to BSkyB for £1.31bn for rights to 92 live games a season. Setanta paid £392m for the remaining 46 live games.

The Premier League’s one-week deadline for new bids for the 46 games suggests that Richard Scudamore, chief executive, is aware of bidders waiting to step in should the Setanta contract be terminated.

Premier League insiders said most groups interested in the rights would have been among those involved in the tendering process for the 2010-13 Premier League domestic broadcasting rights completed this year.

ESPN, the sports network owned by Disney, was among those, and would be expected to express an interest in taking over Setanta’s rights, though it denied interest in taking over the broadcaster itself.

The Premier League’s regulatory agreement with the European Commission allows Sky to purchase a maximum of five of the six broadcast packages.

One Premier League insider said it was important that the competition was run efficiently, and the decision to act now was to minimise confusion over the broadcast rights for next season.

“It’s a cute way of allowing Setanta the best opportunity to try to sort themselves out while creating some competition in the market and give notice that these rights may be available,” the person said.

Talks continue with Len Blavatnik, the Russia-born US citizen and billionaire, and Endemol, the production company.

Source Salamander Davoudi and Roger Blitz at The F.T.
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