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ESPN plans entry into Europe

LONDON - ESPN, the US sports TV network, is to launch a TV channel in Europe, called ESPN Classic Sport, as part of a move to pave the way for a renewed onslaught in a market it has so far failed to crack.

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The channel, set to feature classic sporting moments, will be a joint venture between ESPN -- which is 80% owned by Walt Disney -- and private equity firm Sports Capital Partners. It is expected to launch early next year in 2.5m homes in France.

At present ESPN's only presence in Europe has been via syndicated programming such as late night NHL hockey and major league baseball on Channel 5. It also covers the X Games, an extreme sports event, and holds a stake in Eurosport.

Although ESPN has 20 TV networks outside the US, it has stayed clear of Europe because of the high price of sports rights.

The new channel, which is believed to be a way of breaking into the market with minimum risk, will air archived material such as the fights of Muhammed Ali, Tour de France and the best moments of Wimbledon.

The channel will be 70% owned by ESPN and 30% owned by Sports Capital Partners. The programming will be produced by TWI, the programming arm of Mark McCormack's IPG sports marketing firm.

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