LONDON - The two founders of struggling Irish sports broadcaster Setanta are in talks with a potential investor which could prevent the group from falling into administration, a source familiar with the situation said on Friday.

Setanta has been looking for a 50 million pound ($82.52 million) investment to pay looming sports rights payments.

The source declined to disclose the identity of the possible investor.

The BBC reported that it was Len Blavatnik, a U.S. billionaire who made his fortune in petrochemicals and now has a variety of interests, including sports television in Israel. It said on its website that Blavatnik was considering offering 20 million pounds for a 51 percent stake in the broadcaster.

The Reuters source's comments followed a report in the Irish Times which said Setanta founders Michael O'Rourke and Leonard Ryan would put an offer for a majority stake in the cash-strapped business to the company's directors at a board meeting in London on Friday.

The offer would be backed by the investor, a major international group, and would dilute the existing shareholders' holding, the report said.

Setanta declined to comment.

Setanta's board has been engaged in emergency refinancing talks all week and has suspended signing up new subscribers. It hit trouble after signing sports rights but failing to sign the number of subscribers it needed to cover the cost.

The viability of its long-term business model was also thrown into doubt in February this year when it failed to secure its desired number of English Premier League live broadcast packages, a key draw for customers.

Setanta currently holds the rights to show two English Premier League packages, or 46 live matches a season, but it lost out in the auction for the next three-year deal to BSkyB and will only show 23 games per season from August 2010 against BSkyB's 115.

Setanta has around 1.2 million direct subscribers and needs nearer 1.9 million to break even, according to analysts.

The Walt Disney-owned sports network ESPN said on Thursday it had no current plan to buy Setanta and the Irish group also failed to reach a wholesale deal with rival broadcaster BSkyB.

(Reporting by Kate Holton; Editing by David Cowell) ($1 = 0.6059 pound)