Benchmark buys €20m stake in Setanta channel

8 Jun 2005

Barry Maloney’s Benchmark Capital has acquired a 50pc stake in a Europe-only TV channel dedicated to North American sports leagues that is owned by Irish digital media group Setanta.

The deal is believed to be worth around €20m. The transaction is subject to approval by the Irish Competition Authority.

Launched in 2002 with backing from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s venture media group Vulture Media Holdings and Setanta, the North American Sport Network (NASN) is broadcast 24/7 and is marketed as a premium subscription channel in Ireland and the UK where it is available on the Sky, NTL and Telewest platforms. The channel broadcasts the best of North American sports, including Major League Baseball, NBA basketball, NFL Ice Hockey and motor racing.

Since November 2004, NASN has been available on the KDG and ISH cable platforms in Germany as part of its new digital TV package. In addition, in 2005 it has become available in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Iceland and in US Air Force bases in Germany. The channel plans to expand its distribution further into Europe and Asia during 2005.

Ynon Kreiz, general partner at Benchmark Capital Europe, commented: “This acquisition is part of our strategy to expand our investments into the media sector. We believe NASN has the potential to increase distribution in the UK and can be a great proposition in other markets in Europe and Asia. Our objective is to make NASN the home of North American sports outside of the US.”

The Benchmark investment follows a shareholder restructuring whereby Setanta Sport acquired co-founding investor Vulcan European Media Holdings’ 70pc stake in the channel. Following the sale to Benchmark, Setanta Sport now holds a 50pc stake in NASN. The transaction is subject to approval by the Irish Competition Authority.

Maloney, who formerly headed up Esat Digifone’s operations in Ireland, stepped down as chairman of O2 Ireland in order to avoid a conflict of interest with a new MVNO start-up he is spearheading with former O2 Ireland finance director Niall Norton called Clever Communications. According to sources, Maloney and Norton are negotiating a potential MVNO play with Ireland’s three mobile operators, Vodafone, O2 and Meteor. Maloney is also the brother of BT Ireland’s chief operations officer and country manager Mike Maloney.

The joint CEO of Setanta Sports, Leonard Ryan commented: “Our increased stake in NASN is part of the international growth of Setanta Sports. We have developed strong relationships with the leading American sport associations as well as large US networks and are looking to further build on this as we expand our channel into new territories.”> reported last month how Setanta signed a lucrative broadcasting deal with US digital television giant DirecTV to launch the Setanta Sports channel across the US on a 24-hour basis. The channel will be offered as a premium subscription service and is expected to attract an audience from various ethnic communities and predominantly male 25-54 European, expatriate football fans living in the US. DirecTV reaches more than 13.9 million homes across the US.

By John Kennedy