FSC’s acquisition of Setanta Sports USA could lead to bigger, better things for soccer on US TV

I often rip the site and its partner sites, but credit is due to EPL Talk for being all over the story that Fox Sports International, FSC’s parent company, is going to acquire Setanta Sports USA imminently. I agree that it sounds like Setanta couldn’t make its payments to Fox for the Premier League rights. What I don’t agree with is the immediate assertion EPL Talk makes in a second piece that the move is a “dark day” for American soccer fans. It’s certainly not a good thing in the short term, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a medium or long-term negative. Here’s why:

  • It potentially makes Premier League and Champions League rights available (via sublicense from Fox) to a whole bunch of potentially interested suitors including at least two (ESPN and Versus) that have widespread HD carriage. I could easily see either (or both) networks getting a weekly match or two out of the Setanta package. I could absolutely see Versus making a play at the rights considering that its current sports rights only include the NHL (picking itself off the canvas), non-BCS league college football and hoops, rodeo, Indycar racing (dying before our very eyes), and lower-tier MMA. Additionally, Versus has a history of showing international sports including the Tour de France, America’s Cup, IAAF World Championships, Davis Cup, Dakar Rally and even the NRL, Rugby World Cup, and the US round of the international rugby sevens series. Now, I suspect suits at Comcast/NBCUniversal (who own Versus) are fairly busy girding their loins for an epic antitrust battle, but if anyone there is paying attention, I bet they make a play at the Premier League and Champions League rights, and if FSC is half as smart with their rights as they are cheap with their production values, they’ve already targeted and or talked to suitors for Setanta’s sublicenses.
  • This is conjecture, but why couldn’t FSC operate the old Setanta as FSC2 either maintaining Setanta’s old $15 per month fee structure or by just requesting it be added to the expanded sports tiers where FSC typically already resides? I understand that FSC would like to make some money of the rights via sublicensing, but if they wanted to nearly corner the market on soccer outside La Liga, this could be a way of doing so.

I agree that in the very short term that this could be bad for US viewers. But as we saw with ESPN’s extremely late acquisition of EPL rights this season, it doesn’t take all that long to get organized to put this stuff on the air (the matches are all produced in England so all a US network does is fork over the cash, point the dish in the right direction, and flip a switch) and that was with ESPN adding some flash and dash like pre and post game shows that a new rightsholder wouldn’t necessarily have to do immediately after buying the rights.

I should feel worse for fans of rugby who will likely see Setanta’s coverage of the Tri-Nations, Heineken Cup and Guinness Premiership go, but I really have to wonder if there is an audience for that programming that really merits anything above internet or pay-per-view coverage in this country.

But returning to soccer, if Setanta’s demise leads to EPL and Champions League rights being acquired by a HD-enabled rightsholder with deep pockets (meaning one that won’t fold) like Versus or ESPN than maybe it will have been a dark day or two but it will have directly lead to an even brighter (high-defintion) future of soccer on American television.


19 thoughts on “FSC’s acquisition of Setanta Sports USA could lead to bigger, better things for soccer on US TV

  1. Quick note on Versus: Under the new deal with Zuffa, they’re getting a couple of UFC cards per year.

    I’m of two minds on whether Versus would want Setanta content. On one hand, I’ve never seen any NBC Universal interest in soccer (aside from the fact that Dave Ungrady works at Universal Sports). On the other, yeah, a bunch of international sports would fit nicely in NBC’s “Olympics and the world” strategy.

    I just want to be able to see the Aussie Rules Grand Final each year.

  2. I just started getting into Rugby and this is a big blow I am a fan of the Magner league Rugby. I went to see the USA rugby this year, and then watched the USNMT beat Honduras the same day.

    I also wonder if what they what would happen to the A-league soccer games, I know they did not show many games but it is entertaining.

  3. I can’t find it online at the moment, but I seem to remember reading a Wahl piece where he talked about how NBCUniversal made a big play at the WC rights and how Garber and Gulati had to fly to Switzerland and convince Blatter, et al that pulling the rights from SUM would mortally wound MLS.

  4. If Setanta does indeed fold RugbyZone (broadband) would most likely be looking to pick up those rights, if the price is right. Currently they show only Southern Hemisphere rugby because they have been shut out of the Northern Hemi market by Setanta.

  5. If you’re a fan of some of the ‘nichier’ products they happened to carry, then yeah, this is likely to be bad for you.

    If you’re a fan of the biggest competitions they carry, then this is a good day. Those will find another home, and that home will, in turn, be easier to find than Setanta was.

    (Also, I didn’t watch much Setanta because I didn’t have much access, but from what I understand they studiously ignored the US game, and anyone who does that won’t have my sympathies when they depart this earth.)

  6. Well, yeah they did ignore the American game but I never really cared. After all, they’re an Irish company whose American subsidiary’s main objective was getting foreign sports telecasts rebroadcast in America. They made no pretentions of being an American network. They weren’t really a network or a channel at all in the American tradition. They just rebroadcast programming produced elsewhere, either by Setanta Ireland, or the Premier League, Sky Sports, or whatever.

  7. Please Clarify what you mean by US game.

    Setanta did show alot of US rugby games that were played here in the US and abroad. They are a sponsor of the USA Eagles Rugby. If it was not for that I would not have know about the USA vs. Wales game that was being played at Toyota Park the same day the USMNT was playing a World Cup Qualifier.


  8. It was pretty much a pub channel, matches more than anything, and espn and fsc own the usmnt and MLS rights so Setanta had no rights nor any reason to concentrate on the american game.

  9. The one thing I miss about the transition from FSW to FSC is the loss of Rugby. I don’t care so much for the sport that I am going to go out and spend even more money trying to add it to my cable package or PPV, but I did enjoy seeing a game from time to time, especially during the Rugby WC or the Four Nations Tournament.

    Well, I guess not the one thing, because I also enjoyed the bits of Aussie Rules and Gaelic Football they would occasionally show as well.

  10. Not sure why ESPN would buy Setanta to mothball it. ESPN doesn’t really have an outlet for the rights that Setanta US still has and also, even though S/US is a premium channel selection, those carriage agreements with a number of major systems are valuable. Either they operate Setanta as is mostly, or rebrand it into something like Fox Sports World was back in the day.

  11. This could be great news for me. Currently my cable provider doesn’t offer Setanta in NV. I wouldn’t pay $15 a month for one channel on principle anyway.

    If it’s a FSC2 or VS and ESPN picking up more EPL content I will be happy either way.

    How about a Yanks Abroad channel? I can dream can I not?

  12. In English, maybe there hasn’t been interest in soccer by NBC Universal. There was that whole mun2 fiasco with the World Cup Qualifier, and mun2 is NBC Universal. Telemundo is NBC Universal although they mostly show Mexican League and Mexican National Team matches.

  13. Wasn’t NBC Universal the high bidder for the 06 WC until FIFA stepped in and pushed for the MLS rights to be considered as part of the criteria?

  14. I just hope Special 1 TV gets a return engagement…as well as showing more matches…I like the FSC2 idea…change up some of the games and other EPL and maybe Championship games that might not hit the air on a regular basis…time will tell…

  15. ESPN controls Aussie Rules rights for the USA now. They had last year’s Grand Final live on ESPN Classic. Matches appeared mainly on espn360 after they got the rights when Setanta lost them. I think the plan was supposed to be for some matches on espn2 for the up-coming season, but I suspect most will still just be available on espn360.

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