BBC secures cut-price deal for England's home games

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The Independent Football

The financially embattled Football Association unveiled a cut-price deal for television coverage of England's internationals and the FA Cup yesterday. The BBC and Sky Sports paid a combined £300m for broadcasting rights over four years, a 30 per cent reduction on the existing three-year agreement, which ends next season.

Under the current deal, which was struck during the game's boom years, both broadcasters paid £340m for the FA's "crown jewels" for three years. This worked out at £113m a year, while the new deal is worth £77m per annum.

All home internationals will be shown exclusively live on the BBC from the start of the 2004/05 season until the end of the 2007/08 season, which includes qualifying for the European Championships. The BBC will also have the pick of the FA cup ties and will broadcast the FA Cup final with Sky.

The deal was confirmed after more than a week of legal wrangling. The BBC claimed that the dwindling value of sports rights helped secure a bargain. The BBC's director of sport, Peter Salmon, said: "The new partnership with the FA will enable the BBC to give terrestrial audiences unprecedented access to the England team during their passage to the World Cup in 2006.

"Our production teams and talent have also worked hard over the last two years to bring back the magic of the FA Cup and we look forward to building on our successes over the next four years," he added.

Sky is believed to have contributed a fraction to the deal, for which it has been granted rights to Under-21 and Under-19 internationals and women's and youth internationals. But sources at Sky say they are willing to pay "premium prices for premium sports", in reference to impending negotiations over Premiership coverage.

The FA said the deal would provide "financial stability". It has been forced to cut 20 per cent of its workforce to meet its commitments of £400m to the new Wembley Stadium and £50m to the National Football Centre at Burton-on-Trent. The FA's new chief executive Mark Palios, added that the deal " enables much greater access to top-quality football for an even larger number of people."

But one of the FA's five main sponsors is concerned that the BBC will "marginalise" their exposure. Pepsi, McDonald's, Umbro, Nationwide and Carlsberg each pay £20m to have their brand associated with the FA. But Andrew Marsden of Britvic Soft Drinks, which markets and distributes Pepsi in the UK, said: "We are not pleased about the prospect of not getting the commercial coverage we bought. The BBC's priority is not going to be showing our commercial properties and we will be talking to the FA about a number of items concerning exposure that are in our contract."