ITV, Setanta score U.K. soccer rights

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LONDON -- U.K. commercial broadcasting behemoth ITV and pay TV sports operator Setanta have pulled off an audacious £425 million ($832.4 million) coup to win the broadcast rights for Football Assn. soccer from the BBC and satcaster BSkyB, sources close to the deal said Friday.

ITV is understood to have paid £275 million ($538.6 million) for its share of the package, with the balance paid by Setanta, the Benchmark Capital-backed sports channel operator.

The BBC and Sky have shared rights to the tournament that unites all U.K. soccer clubs from local amateur teams to the cream of the Premier league for the past 13 years. Neither organization would comment on the loss of the rights.

They were outbid by a combination of the intervention of ITV executive chairman Michael Grade and Setanta's aggressive bid to unseat Sky as the dominant U.K. sports channel operator.

"It's a massive coup for both ITV and Setanta," Benchmark Europe partner Ynon Kreiz said. "It is another step in establishing Setanta as a significant low-cost television platform."

Kreiz praised ITV boss Grade for his role in the negotiations.

"He did a very good job, a lot of credit goes to him," Kreiz
said.

Grade said the deal would enhance the coverage of soccer on terrestrial television.

"Our position is now substantially enhanced as the leading terrestrial free-to-air sports broadcaster. The FA has run an intense bidding process, and we are delighted to be the winners with Setanta. It is a great deal for all of us," Grade said in a statement.

The four-year deal, which starts in August 2008, gives ITV rights to England's competitive home games, friendly away fixtures and first pick for FA Cup games. It will guarantee Setanta England home friendlies, under-21 internationals, the Community Shield and the FA Trophy. It also will screen 17 out of the 31 FA Cup games televised each year and the FA Cup semifinal.
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