Virgin Media, ESPN ink carriage deal

ESPN adds Premier League Soccer to rights package

LONDON -- Disney-owned ESPN's new Premier League soccer channel has jumped on board U.K. cable operator Virgin Media, securing carriage in Virgin Media's 3.5 million cable TV homes under a deal that will give Virgin viewers a month's free access, the companies said Wednesday.

The channel will have the only live rights to top league U.K. soccer other than BSkyB, which still has rights to the majority of Premier League matches.

After the first month, only subscribers to Virgin's XL TV channels package or those paying an extra $15 per month will be able to access the channel, which was announced by ESPN last month after it secured rights to 46 Premier League matches a year till 2011.

ESPN has been bulking up the rights for the sports channel, announcing earlier this week that it would carry top league soccer matches from Germany, Portugal, Russia and the Netherlands.

ESPN will launch it s new channel in the U.K. Aug. 3, with the Premier League season kicking off Aug. 15.