UFC TV Partner Setanta Slashing Rights Deals by 25%, Looking To Stay Afloat

May 31, 2009

The Sunday Times is reporting today that a stop gap measure to make ends meet for UFC UK broadcaster Setanta has been nixed:

Setanta’s financial position was so parlous this weekend that it asked arch-rival BSkyB, which is 39.1% owned by News Corporation, parent company of The Sunday Times, for a £50m advance payment on a deal that would have seen Sky wholesale Setanta to its own Sky Sports subscribers.

The proposal of an interest-free loan, which was rejected, would have bridged the gap left by private-equity backers Doughty Hanson, Balderton Capital and Goldman Sachs, which have so far offered to inject £50m into the company.

Setanta, which has 1.2m customers, must now return for crunch talks with rights holders, including the PGA golf tour. After initially asking for a 15%-20% reduction in terms, the broadcaster is seeking to negotiate some of its rights deals down by 25%.

The rights fee reductions look to be a cross the board and the UFC won’t be immune in this respect. The last hired first, fired concept applies in a lot of situations and I imagine that the UFC were one of the first properties to be approached for a cut. While MMA is growing in the UK, it is important to keep in proper perspective the engines that are driving the Setanta train (soccer, cricket, rugby, etc.). It is going to be incumbent upon Setanta to get these reduction deals done in order to remain afloat. The general feel I have gotten in reading over all the Setanta stuff is that the situation is quite perilous at this point. The rights fee payment to the FA that is prompting all of this scurrying about is due by June 15, so there should be some movement in the situation over the next few weeks.

Phil Lowe of iFight365 has been covering the Setanta issue closely and gives his take on where the situation may go from here:

As we reported back in March, Setanta Sports and the UFC signed a two-year agreement at the start of 2008 which saw Setanta Sports 1 become the exclusive home for all UFC programming.

While we don’t have confirmation on whether or not ongoing talks over rights include talks with the UFC, the ongoing problems with the broadcaster raises questions over the UFC’s future in the UK, who may find themselves looking for a new UK broadcaster in the next six months or so.

Providing the original deal is still in place, UFC’s contract with Setanta Sports would end in early 2010, making the New Year an even more interesting one for wrestling and MMA fans in the UK and Ireland.

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