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Setanta targeted in £1bn-plus bidding war

LONDON - Setanta Sports could be the subject of a £1bn-plus bidding war after a European rival made an unsolicited offer for the Premiership football broadcaster, which is expected to spark serious interest from ESPN, BT, ITV and Virgin Media.

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Setanta Sports only began broadcasting Premiership football at the start of the 2007/2008 season in August, breaking Sky's dominance of the game, and is not yet profitable.

According to a report in the Sunday Telegraph the £1bn -plus bid was made by an unidentified company and investor Goldman Sachs has been asked by other investors in Setanta to field bids, although it has not been formerly appointed.

ESPN, which is owned 80% by Disney's ABC, has made no secret of its desire to break into the UK market and is expected to be one of the bidders for the cable sports group, which has been around since 1992 but changed up a gear in 2006 with its winning of a Premiership football package.

Virgin Media is another potential bidder. The two co-own Setanta Sports News, which is produced by ITN, as a rival to Sky Sports News.

Although it is expected to be profitable within the next year, a survey published in November said that only 1% of UK adults with digital TV at home are very likely to subscribe to Setanta Sports channels within the next 12 months.

However, this is not likely to put off bidders, who will be keen to snap up a slice of English Premier League football.

Setanta, which was founded by Michael O'Rourke and Leonard Ryan in London in 1990 to show Irish sports in the UK, now has more than 3m customers in the UK and Ireland and is the only broadcaster that is available on all digital platforms in the UK.

Of its 3m customers, more than 1.1m subscribe to its premium package. It also offers coverage of PGA Golf, Magners League and Irish international football.

As well as Goldman Sachs, O'Rourke and Ryan, Setanta shareholders also include private equity groups, Balderton Capital and Doughty Hanson, which own about 20% each.

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