ESPN Plans European Expansion

The Disney division buys a U.K.-based channel that brings North American sports to Europe.
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ESPN said Tuesday that it agreed to buy a U.K.-based cable sports channel, NASN, that brings sports from North America to a European audience.

NASN, or the North American Sports Network, is owned by private equity firm Benchmark Capital Europe and Setanta Sports Holdings Ltd., a sports broadcaster based in Ireland. The channel has more than 6 million subscribers in 26 countries.

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but

The Wall Street Journal

reported that NASN was being sold for $107 million to $120 million, including debt assumption.

The Journal

cited a source familiar with the deal.

"Growing our business in Europe is a key strategic initiative for us," said Russell Wolff, managing director of ESPN International, in a press release. "We expect NASN, which has performed well and created a unique market position, to be a strong addition to our portfolio. ESPN has a leadership position in sports media around the world, and we look forward to bringing the same passion, quality, excitement, and insightful journalism to sports fans in Europe."

As part of the deal, ESPN will have rights to show National Hockey League and Major League Baseball games in Europe. The channel also will have the exclusive rights to the National Football League in some parts of Europe.

Currently, ESPN's operations in Europe are limited to its ESPN Classic channel, a soccer Web site and a business that sells some sports shows to other European networks.

The Disney subsidiary plans to put its name on NASN and use to broadcast ESPN programming in Europe.

Shares of Disney recently were trading up 44 cents, or 1.3%, to $33.88.