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TELLY FIRM LEFT FACING THE MUSIC.

Byline: Gordon Parks

FROM the humble setting of an Irish dance hall in London 20 years ago, Setanta set off on a quickstep towards becoming a major player in sports broadcasting.

Charging punters pounds 10 a head to watch Republic of Ireland's 1990 World Cup match against Holland, cofounders Michael O'Rourke and Leonard Ryan broke even with an audience of 1000 fans.

That figure would later rise to an incredible 1.2million customers as it embarked on a viewing war with Sky but it didn't come close to the 1.9m it needed to turn over a profit.

Two decades on from that night in Eailing's Top Hat club, the company is on a slow waltz towards oblivion and Record Sport charts the journey from boom to bust.

Rocketed

With its eye on Gaelic sport, Setanta made tentative steps towards expansion as it entered the bidding to broadcast major sporting events from 2004 onwards.

As Sky upped the ante, Setanta tried to stay the pace as the cost of rights rocketed.

The major breakthrough arrived five years ago when they secured a deal to broadcast SPL games and two years later they trumpeted their contract for two English Premier League packages.

That coup gave them the right to show 46 matches annually for three seasons.

Suddenly Sky's monopoly was broken and Setanta were major players in the market despite early problems.

Setanta then followed that success by grabbing exclusive UK and Republic of Ireland rights to the US PGA.

With the Premier League rights in place, the company received pounds 400million in private equity funding. That increased the pressure to deliver a return on the money and the problems surfaced.

At the start of 2008 doubts began to be voiced over some of Setanta's deals and there was talk of the company being put up for sale at an inflated value of pounds 1billion.

Fears from investors grew that with just two years remaining on their Premier League deal, there would be no guarantee they would retain the rights when they came up for renewal.

Setanta had also launched a sports news channel which ate up millions in capital and they scored an own-goal by winning exclusive rights to England's away World Cup qualifiers and then attempted to sell the highlights to terrestrial broadcasters.

Amid that furore, the recession was starting to bite and customers were opting out of pay-per-view TV.

A hammer blow arrived in February when they failed to retain their rights to their two packages of English action for the 2010 to 2013 period.

Setanta's struggle to make payments to rights holders such as the pounds 3m owed to the SPL intensified the crisis.

With pressure increasing over the demand for payments, Setanta are on the brink of administration and time could soon be called.

But if the company does collapse then it will trigger a scramble to acquire its many rights, with ESPN poised to make inroads into the UK football market.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jun 10, 2009
Words:518
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