ESPN drafts Europe's NASN

Buys outlet for N. American sports

ESPN has acquired European-based channel NASN — the only European channel dedicated to North American sports — 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 approval, ESPN said.

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

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

NASN airs more than 800 North American sports events each year, including games from the NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball.

Subscribers also can view college basketball action and the NCAA men's basketball tournament as well as NCAA football including the Bowl Championship Series.

ESPN's 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 during 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, the company has operated a variety of ESPN-branded businesses in Europe, with ESPN Classic now listing 20 million subscribers in more than 40 countries.