Setanta puts itself on the satellite map

When Setanta broke BSkyB’s monopoly on showing live Premiership football earlier this year, the majority of English football fans had not even heard of the Irish pay-TV firm.

But after winning the rights to show 46 matches a season from next year, the company is having to raise its profile and has appointed integrated agency Momentum to handle an experiential marketing push to increase brand awareness and drive subscriptions (MW last week).

One industry commentator thinks Setanta winning two of the six Premiership rights packages is not only good news for the company but also for Sky. The source says: “From Sky’s perspective, Setanta was by far the best possible winner of the two packages it could not buy [because of European Union regulations introduced this year]. It didn’t go to traditional Sky rivals, such as the BBC, ITV or Flextech, but to a company that has low market penetration and already sits on Sky’s Electronic Programme Guide.”

Industry experts commend Setanta for building a sustainable business specialising in providing sports action for expatriates across the globe and for its exclusive capture of the Scottish Premier League (SPL) football rights in the UK. They wonder, however, if the £392m the broadcaster paid for three seasons of English Premier League action will prove to be an expensive own goal.

Phil Carling, senior vice-president of football at Octagon and a former Football Association commercial director, says: “The deal makes it a serious player but the amount bid for those rights, which are okay but a little B-list, was tremendous. On what basis is it going to get back the money it has paid out on the Premier League? The jury is still out.”

Established rival Carling questions Setanta’s ability to challenge the dominance of Sky, which built its empire on exclusive football rights from 1992 and “changed the way the game is viewed on TV”, both in terms of game quality and content presentation.

Carling adds: “The big unanswered question is whether or not Sky subscribers will buy the two extra packages to get 100% of the games when they get two-thirds with their existing subscriptions. I know that in my own household, that would be pretty unlikely.”

Setanta Sports was formed when co-founders Michael O’Rourke and Leonard Ryan were living in London and were frustrated at the lack of live coverage of the Ireland vs Holland World Cup game in 1990. They negotiated broadcasting rights and put on an event at a pub in Ealing. Now, the company reaches more than 100 million homes worldwide and operates more sports channels than any other independent broadcaster in Ireland and the UK. It also broadcasts in Australia and North America.

Setanta shows football from Scotland, Italy and Germany, as well as British horse racing and French rugby. The capture of the SPL rights four years ago put Setanta on the radar in Scotland and the broadcaster hopes its coverage of the English Premier League will do the same south of the border.

GB marketing director Robert Robinson says: “There is a job to be done because our brand is certainly not as well known outside Scotland.

“And then there are those who know the name but who will need a bit more convincing. But we believe we will offer unmissable action and that if you want to have the whole picture then you have to have Setanta Sports,” he adds.

Getting attention Momentum senior account executive Claire Carmichael says: “There is a great deal there already. It is now about bringing the brand’s attention to those who don’t know it, and doing so in a way that is emotive and engaging.”

For all Setanta’s protestations that it is about all sports, rather than just football, the heavy price the broadcaster has paid to secure the Premiership rights could make or break the brand in England.

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