US broadcaster ESPN poised to lodge bid for Premier League TV rights

LONDON - The Walt Disney-owned US sports broadcaster ESPN is reportedly interested in acquiring a single package of television rights to live Premier League football matches.

The Premier League has asked for bids to be in by Tuesday for the right to televise its live matches for three years from August 2010.

According to a report in the Sunday Telegraph, the broadcaster is eyeing up one of the six packages the matches are divided into.

The bidding is certain to attract interest from two present rights holders BSkyB, which paid £1.3bn last time for four packages, and Setanta, which paid £392m for two packages.

ESPN, which is 80% owned by Disney and 20% by the Hearst Corporation, is expected to bid to offer live Premier League matches as part of a basic tier of channels available to subscribers on a multichannel platform like BSkyB.

Interest from ESPN was expected to keep the cost of acquiring rights at the same level as before, but some have said the credit crunch will mean that the UK rights to live games will be sold for up to 10% less than the previous figure of £1.7bn.

The Premier League hasn't confirmed when it will make a decision, but league sources are claiming it will be made by February 14.