ESPN Classic UK up and running for Sky viewers

UK sports fans who long for the good old days can finally whet their appetite with the launch of ESPN Classic UK. A London-based broadcast facility is pumping out programming to BSkyB satellite subscribers with sports matches ranging from football (the non-American kind) to boxing as of March 13.

“We’re thrilled to have our first-ever branded network in the UK,” says Russell Wolff, ESPN Internation SVP and managing director. “We’ve been working closely with BSkyB and it’s now on their basic tier of services.”

Different versions of ESPN Classic now reach more than 16 million viewers in more than 40 countries which begs the obvious question: why did it take so long to land a deal in the UK?

“It was a complicated deal,” says Wolff. “And there was a lot of demand in other markets, like France and Italy, that made them priorities ahead of the UK.”

The channel will be produced out of a London facility that has about 40 people and also handles the other networks in France and Italy as well as Polish, German and Portuguese language versions.

“We’ll have programs on the great teams of the World Cup, boxing, and a lot of Wimbledon,” says Wolff. “The best example of the latter is a 25th anniversary special on the Bjorn Borg/John McEnroe match from 1981.” ESPN originals, the movie Four Minutes which dealt with Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile will also air.

All of the game content will come in on videotape and then be ingested into a server where it will be edited and then sent out to BSkyB. “All the networks are digital and controlled on a server-based environment from both a programming and advertising perspective,” says Wolff.

While HD is expected to take hold across Europe this June with World Cup coverage Wolff says there are currently no plans for an HD version of ESPN Classic.

“Our focus is launching quality products in the UK that serve the high-end sports fan,” he says. “This concept has been a gap for fans in the UK.”