has finally delivered on a longstanding Anglophile desire: the right to broadcast English

Premier League

soccer games -- or should we say

football matches

-- in the birthplace of the sport.

The self-styled Worldwide Leader in Sports has struggled, that moniker notwithstanding, to gain much of a viewership at all in the U.K, where it currently has two little-watched channels, one dedicated to U.S. sports and the other to historical sporting fare.

But with the deal struck Monday in London with the Premier League, ESPN obtains a guaranteed audience of diehard fanatics, and the advertising cash-flow that's sure to follow.

On Monday, ESPN announced that it acquired the U.K. broadcasting rights to 46 matches (out of a total of 138) for the upcoming Premiership season. It paid 90 million pounds for the privilege, according to London's


newspaper, which cited anonymous sources. In a separate deal, ESPN bought rights for 23 games in each of the following three seasons, from 2010-2013. Financial terms were not officially disclosed.

ESPN's British entree comes as something of an unexpected boon for the Bristol, Conn.-based network and its parent company,


(DIS) - Get Report

. Back in February, ESPN lost the bidding for this same package of broadcast rights to the Irish pay-TV sports channel


, which agreed to pay a reported 131 million pounds.

But Setanta has since run into serious financial problems -- it filed for bankruptcy protection just on Tuesday -- and it couldn't come up with the payment of 10 million pounds (though it had earlier put down 40 million pounds). The Premier League then held a second auction, which ESPN won Monday.

ESPN's deal pits Disney against its media-conglomerate rival,

News Corp.

(NWS) - Get Report

, part owner of

British Sky Broadcasting


, which has long held sway as the Premier League's television mainstay.

Indeed, BSkyB owns a majority of the rights to the league's games next season -- a total of 92 -- and 115 matches for each of the following three season. It acquired that lot earlier in the year for a reported 1.6 billion pounds.

(The Premier League divides each season into six "packages" of 23 games. No one broadcaster, according to the EU's equivalent of antitrust laws, is allowed to own all six.)

ESPN has already agreed to distribute the matches over BSkyB's satellite network, but has said that it wants to use other pay-TV channels, as well. According to Dow Jones, ESPN has been in talks with

Virgin Media



BT Group


, the UK telecom giant, which has a pay-TV service.

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