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Setanta raises more cash for assault on Sky

LONDON - Setanta Sports has raised £90m from its financial backers to continue its push into the broadcasting mainstream, and has acquired the rights to broadcast the England football team's away World Cup qualifiers.

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Setanta has raised £90m from issuing shares to private equity companies Doughty Hanson and Balderton Capital, along with investment bank Goldman Sachs, which already backs the Irish broadcaster.

Setanta has also issued shares to senior executives for the first time. As a result, founders Michael O'Rourke and Leonard Ryan and their management team now own more than 20%of the company.

The broadcaster plans to spend the money on buying up rights to England international and FA Cup games.

Last night, Setanta's corporate development director Richard Brooke, announced on Radio 4's 'Sunday Business' programme that the company had just secured coverage of the away fixtures in England's World Cup qualifying campaign, as well as the team's friendly games.

Raising the money was crucial for Setanta, which is expected to run at a loss until mid 2009.

Setanta went into the red after shelling out millions for live Premier League games in a bid to lure digital terrestrial viewers away from Sky.

Setanta has paid £150m for a four-year deal with the FA, for the privilege of showing more live football than any other UK broadcaster, from next season.

So far, Setanta has around 400,000 subscribers in Britain and Ireland. The company hopes to raise this to one million next year by cutting subscription rates and contract lengths.

Setanta is also hoping to build its audience through its new Setanta Sports news channel, which is a joint venture with Virgin Media and will be available on cable and satellite .

Launching on Thursday, it will be a rolling news service with a strong emphasis on Premiership football. The channel is expected to generate £10m in revenue per year.

However, Setanta could face more competition next year if BSkyB is successful in its bid to launch a pay-TV channel for Freeview customers.

Last month, BSkyB unveiled plans for a new subscription service for Freeview called Picnic.

The service will offer channels Sky One, Sky Sports 1 and Sky Movies, as well as factual and children's programmes and an evening Sky News bulletin.

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