ESPN adds NASN to portfolio

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LONDON -- ESPN has snapped up European-based channel NASN --- the only European channel dedicated to North American sports here -- from Setanta Sport Holdings and Benchmark Capital Europe for an undisclosed sum, the network said Tuesday.

The deal -- which will see ESPN add NASN to its portfolio of channels -- is expected to close early next year, subject to regulatory approvals, ESPN said.

"Growing our business in Europe is a key strategic initiative for us," ESPN International managing director Russell Wolff said in a statement. "We expect NASN, which has performed well and created a unique market position, to be a strong addition to our portfolio."

Amory B. Schwartz, co-founder and chief executive of NASN, said that, in four years, his operation had grown from an idea to "the home of North American sports in Europe."

NASN is the only network in Europe completely dedicated to North American Sports, airing more than 800 live and as-live sports events each year including games from the National Hockey League, National Football League and Major League Baseball.

Subscribers also can view college basketball action and the NCAA Tournament as well as NCAA Football including the Bowl Championship Series.

ESPN's future plans for NASN include bringing ESPN branding to the network.

Setanta was a launch investor in NASN in October 2002 along with Vulcan European Media. In June 2005, Vulcan sold its stake to Setanta, which then sold a 50% interest to venture capitalists Benchmark Capital Europe. Setanta and Benchmark focused their efforts over the past 18 months on helping NASN secure the best content and distribution deals across Europe.

NASN hits more than 6 million households in 26 European countries.

"This acquisition will allow us to accelerate our European television business, which has grown rapidly since the launch of ESPN Classic in 2002," said Lynne Frank, managing director of ESPN Europe, Middle East and Africa. "NASN is a great fit for our company and we will continue to build on its success and appeal across some of the most vibrant multichannel markets in the world."

Since the launch of ESPN Classic in 2002, ESPN has operated a variety of ESPN-branded businesses in Europe, with ESPN Classic currently listing 20 million subscribers in more than 40 countries.
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