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ITV and Setanta beat BBC and Sky to TV rights for FA Cup

LONDON - The Football Association has awarded the UK television rights for the FA Cup and England's home international matches to ITV and Setanta Sports, beating the BBC and BSkyB, which currently broadcast the games.

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The four-year deal, worth £425m, means that ITV and Setanta Sports will begin covering the FA Cup and England's home international matches, which are shortly to move to the newly opened Wembley Stadium, from the summer of next year. This year's FA Cup Final, which will be broadcast by the BBC, will for the first time be held at the newly opened £793m Wembley Stadium.

Winning the rights to the TV coverage of the FA Cup, the oldest cup competition in the world, and England's home international matches represents a major coup for ITV chairman Michael Grade, who defected from the BBC in December 2006, in his attempt to boost ratings for the broadcaster.

The loss is a major blow to the BBC's sports coverage at home and internationally. Similarly, BSkyB lost its monopoly on exclusive UK coverage of the Uefa Champions League, following a European Commission review.

Critics have pointed to the BBC's lower-than-expected licence fee settlement as one of the reasons why the broadcaster has failed to make a successful bid to retain the rights for broadcasting the FA Cup.

The deal means ITV will broadcast live 16 FA Cup games a season, have first pick over matches from the first to sixth rounds, exclusive coverage of one semi-final game, and broadcast rights for the final, which will air on ITV1.

Additionally, ITV will show 18 England international games spanning the run-up to the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championships, including all home qualifying games.

Grade said: "Our position has now substantially enhanced as the leading terrestrial free-to-air sports broadcaster. The FA has run an intense bidding process."

The decision is a major boost for pay-TV channel Setanta Sports, which in October secured some Premiership football right and a six-year deal to screen the PGA Golf tour. It launched a package on Freeview for £10.99 earlier this month.

ITV and Setanta Sport's deal includes covering England's under 21 matches. An estimated global audience of 400m watch the FA Cup Final every year.

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