March 30, 2007 3:00 am

ITV wins rights for FA Cup

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The Football Association is expected to announce today that ITV and Setanta Sports have won the live rights to broadcast the FA Cup and England's home international matches, currently owned by the BBC and British Sky Broadcasting.

The two companies, which were bidding against the BBC and BSkyB, offered more than £400m for the television rights for four years starting inAugust 2008.

It is a coup for ITV, which is trying to win back viewers under Michael Grade, the new executive chairman.

ITV currently shares the rights to show Champions League football, the competition between leading European clubs, with BSkyB. The FA rights will help rebuild its sports offering.

The announcement is also a boost for Setanta, the fledgling pay-TV company, which specialises in sports.

Setanta has been buying sports rights including Premiership football and US golf, and the new rights will increase its presence in the pay-TV arena.

It is also interested in someof the less popular sportingevents, such as the England under-21 matches.

The announcement will be a blow to the BBC, which willnow have few leading livefootball games to broadcast on television.

One of the issues for the corporation is believed to be the lower-than-expected licence fee settlement, which has hampered the amount it can bid for sports.

The deal also signals the weakening of BSkyB's grip on football.

It lost the monopoly on live rights for Premier League football after a review by the European Commission.

Although BSkyB still owns the bulk of the rights to the top league, Setanta won the rights for 46 Premiership matches in an auction last year.

The FA Cup has always been the favourite knock-out competition in UK football and is an attractive event for ITV.

England international matches also attract high audiences.

The most popular programme in the UK last year was the World Cup game between England and Sweden, which was shown on ITV and seen by an audience of 14.9m viewers.

High-profile football games attract young male viewers, who are valuable for advertisers, including brewers and carcompanies.

The rights are understood to include those for broadcasting via broadband and clips on new media devices.

"This is a massive coup for both companies," said one person close to the situation.

BSkyB and the BBC bought the previous rights for £320m in a four-year deal that expires at the end of next season.

The FA is understood to have been hoping for a substantial increase in offers following a60 per cent increase in Premier League TV deals.

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