LONDON -- British telecom giant BT has lured popular BBC and Channel 4 sports host Clare Balding into the fold for its planned sports channel.
BT Sport, now lining up to take on Walt Disney's ESPN and U.K. pay TV giant BSkyB, said Thursday that it has signed Balding to present and co-produce a weekly sports magazine show for the channel.
The on-air star, much praised for her work as one of the faces of the BBC's London 2012 Olympics and Channel 4’s Paralympics coverage, will present the show that will feature interviews with major sporting names and discussions of sporting issues.
The show also aims to shine a spotlight on women’s sports, BT said.
BT Sport chief Simon Green said: "We wanted to give Clare an opportunity to anchor her own weekly show, which we see as a flagship program for BT Sport. Clare shares our desire to highlight more women’s sports on our channels, so she will be a perfect choice."
Balding will continue to present horse racing for Channel 4 as well as do radio and television work for the BBC.
She now also fronts the Saturday primetime show Britain’s Brightest for BBC1. The deal with Balding comes as BT Sport ramps up its efforts to take on ESPN and BSkyB here.
Balding said she was "enthused by BT’s vision for sports coverage in the future and particularly their support of women’s sport, an issue about which I feel very strongly. This is an exciting new venture for me, and I can’t wait to get started."
After outbidding ESPN this year for two packages of 38 English Premier League soccer games per year starting in 2013, in an investment worth $1.15 billion over three years, BT also recently won rights to the British rugby union league from the established sports network in a $245 million four-year deal.
The soccer games will be hosted by Jake Humphrey, another high-profile former BBC host.
BT Sport also has acquired rights for the U.K. market to popular soccer leagues in Italy (Serie A), France (Ligue 1), the U.S. (Major League Soccer) and Brazil (Campeonato Brasileiro), with coverage starting this year.