NEW YORK -- Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka will get a wider distribution platform in the United States next season.
ESPN said on Monday that it will start sharing U.S. television rights to Spain's La Liga with GolTV, which has broadcast the league for the past six seasons.
ESPN2 will televise about 20 matches per season, and ESPN Deportes two or three per weekend of league play for a total of at least 95. At least 114 matches per season will be available online on ESPN360. ESPN's networks will also share rights to Spain's Copa del Rey.
It doesn't hurt that Real Madrid has acquired Kaka, the 2007 FIFA player of the year, from AC Milan and is in the process of obtaining Cristiano Ronaldo, the 2008 FIFA player of the year, from Manchester United.
"We're excited that, about getting a premier league in the world at probably at the most exciting time in its recent history," said Lino Garcia, ESPN Deportes' general manager.
La Liga is dominated by Real Madrid and Barcelona, the current European Champions League winner. The teams have split the last five La Liga titles and 21 of the last 25.
The league's most-watched games, the two El Classic matchups between Barcelona and Real Madrid, likely will be simulcast by GolTV and ESPN. Last season, Barcelona's 2-0 victory over Real Madrid on Dec. 13 was seen by 258,000 Hispanic television households in the U.S., and Barca's 6-2 rout on May 2 by 189,000, GolTV said.
"This was not driven by Ronaldo or Kaka," said Rodrigo Lombello, GolTV's chief operating officer. "That was a nice addition, but it would have happened without the two."
ESPN had held U.S. rights to the Champions League since 1994-95, but Fox Soccer Channel will take over next season under a three-year deal. Those matches are on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, while La Liga games are on weekends.
Barcelona's 2-0 victory over Manchester United in this year's Champions League final on May 27 was seen by 1,066,000 homes on ESPN.
"We've always looked at La Liga. One thing isn't totally dependent on the other," Garcia said. "It was always in the planning to look at a property like this."
GolTV also has had U.S. rights to the German Bundesliga since the 2006-07 season and last month extended them through 2011-12.
FSC has rights to England's Premier League and Italy's Serie A, sublicensing part of its Premier League rights to Setanta US.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press