ESPN Backs Out of Eurosport


Bristol, Conn.-One of America's oldest programming expansionists has pulled in its tentacles somewhat, at least for the moment.

ESPN Inc. said last week that it agreed to sell its stake in the panregional Eurosport network franchise to its partners for $155 million.

But rather than retreating completely, ESPN has decided to seek out new opportunities in Europe that will enable it to extend its own brand.

"At this stage in our development, we have decided to focus our resources on the establishment of the ESPN brand in Europe across a broad portfolio of businesses," ESPN president George Bodenheimer said in a prepared statement.

Eurosport's assets were configured in two ways-for France and for the rest of Europe.

Since February 1993, leading French broadcaster TF1 owned 34 percent of Eurosport International and had management control.

European pay TV heavyweight Canal Plus S.A. and ESPN held 33 percent each. With ESPN's exit, TF1 owns 50.1 percent and Canal Plus controls 49.5 percent.

Canal Plus previously held 34 percent of Eurosport France, while 31 percent was owned by TF1. Havas Group owned 25 percent, while ESPN held 10 percent.

Now, Canal Plus has 39 percent, TF1 has 36 percent and Havas-a corporate sibling of Canal Plus-has 25 percent. Canal Plus is the managing partner in that market.

Eurosport has been profitable since 1996, according to a Canal Plus official.