BBC loses soccer rights

LONDON — ITV and sports outfit Setanta said Friday they had won the television rights to Blighty’s oldest soccer tournament, the FA Cup, and England’s home matches, trouncing current holders the BBC and BSkyB at the deal table.

“The Football Association has run an intense bidding process and we are delighted to be the winners. It is a great deal for all of us,” said ITV executive chairman Michael Grade.

“Our position is now substantially enhanced as the leading terrestrial free to air sports broadcaster,” he added.

The coup comes only a few months after Grade’s unexpected defection from the top job at the BBC to head up embattled rival ITV.

The Football Association said the four-year deal, running from August 2008 to July 2012, was worth £425 million ($843 million). It added this represented a 42% increase on the current £300 million ($589 million) agreement with the BBC and Sky expiring end-July 2008.

“It’s very good news for football as the increased revenue will allow the FA to channel more funds back into the game,” said FA chief executive Brian Barwick.

Under the deal, ITV will broadcast live coverage of 16 FA Cup games per season and will have exclusive rights to the tournament’s final, one of England’s most watched sporting events.

In addition, ITV will also have exclusive rights to 18 of England’s international games played at home, including qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.

Local media pundits said the BBC and Sky had been complacent in the face of ITV and Irish-based Setanta’s bid.

The BBC countered in a statement: “Whenever we bid for a contract, we have to bear in mind the interests of license-fee payers and we always have to seek value for money.”

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