Setanta looking for takeover bid

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LONDON -- Setanta Sports, which broadcasts English Premier League football and a variety of other sports on pay TV platforms in the U.K. and internationally, is said to be looking for a buyer.

According to reports Monday in the U.K. press, Goldman Sachs, one of Setanta's owners, has been asked by its fellow investors to see if there is any interest in the pay TV sports broadcaster.

The valuation figure that is hoped for by Setanta's owners is reportedly in excess of 1 billion pounds ($1.95 billion), despite the fact that Setanta is not yet profitable.

"A trade sale is more likely given the state of the equity markets," one private equity investor in the U.K. said. "Some of its owners have been in for a while so it makes sense that they are looking for an exit."

Possible buyers might include BT, ITV, and ESPN, owned by Disney. Virgin Media also might be a potential bidder, though the acting CEO of the cable firm said last week that owning content is not a top priority. Virgin Media already has a venture with Setanta to put some of its sports channels on the cable platform.

Setanta was founded in 1990 and operates 10 channels in the U.K., Ireland, North America and Australia. Its shareholders include Goldman Sachs, Balderton Capital, Doughty Hanson and Montrica as well as its two ex-patriot Irish founders Leonard Ryan and Michael O'Rourke.

In 2006, Setanta rocked the pay sports TV business in the U.K. by agreeing to pay 392 million pounds over three years for 46 live Premiereship football games, while BSkyB paid 1.3 billion pounds for 92 games over the same time frame. Setanta didn't get all the best games but did manage to break Sky's effective stranglehold on Premiership rights.

Setanta charges 10 pounds ($1.95) a month for a subscription to its channels on a variety of platforms, including IPTV operators BT Vision and Tiscali and cable platform Virgin Media as well on the Freeview digital terrestrial platform and online at setanta.com.

Setanta expects to earn revenue of 373 million pounds ($727.6 million) this year, according to reports, and has about 1.2 million premium subscribers in the U.K., plus access to another 2 million customers via the Virgin Media platform. The company hopes to break even by the end of the year.
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