The deal

Earlier this week, it was confirmed that the UK’s BBC public-service broadcaster will continue to provide free-to-air (FTA) coverage of English soccer's FA Cup knockout competition during the 2025-26 to 2028-29 cycle.

This has come about through a deal between the BBC and Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD), the media and entertainment giant that – through pay-TV operator TNT Sports – became the main domestic FA Cup rights-holder for those four seasons in February.

Under the four-year sub-licensing deal, the BBC will show 14 games per season, including the final. There will also be highlights and digital clips available across the broadcaster's platforms.

The BBC has covered live FA Cup action for the last 10 years.

Why it matters

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The four-year tie-up between WBD and English soccer's Football Association (the FA) included a commitment that TNT Sports would have to make matches from each round FTA, either via its own platforms or in partnership with a terrestrial channel.

BT Sport (the broadcaster that WBD took over last year and rebranded to TNT Sports) previously shared FA Cup rights with the BBC from 2014 to 2021. However, commercial FTA network ITV then took BT Sport’s place as an FA Cup rights holder alongside the BBC, for the current cycle.

The FA Cup is English soccer’s most historic tournament, with coverage regularly focusing on the cup’s tradition, heritage, and capacity for shock results where lower-league teams knock out top division sides.

As such, despite the clause that TNT Sports would have to partner with a FTA network being disclosed at the time of the original deal, this caused discontent among a large group of English soccer fans, unhappy that a large portion of the games will still be behind a paywall.

However, many top-tier Premier League (EPL) sides regularly use the competition to play younger or less experienced players, and as such draw significantly lesser crowds than for EPL fixtures. The EPL’s global popularity and its clubs sometimes treating the FA Cup as a second-tier competition has led to the EPL’s media rights far outpacing those of the knockout competition in financial value.

Conrad Wiacek, head of analysis at GlobalData Sport, has commented on the sub-licensing deal, saying: “The BBC's deal to sub-licence the FA Cup rights from TNT Sports highlights the importance of continued FTA coverage of England's premier cup competition. 

“With many fearing for the future popularity of one of global soccer's oldest cup competitions after TNT Sports secured rights, the BBC has managed to ensure that at least some coverage will remain free and therefore garner significant exposure, with the showpiece final also part of the deal. 

“With the waning popularity of the FA Cup in recent years having become a concern, and with moves to change the format also confirmed, the FA will hope that this sub-licensing deal ensures that the cup will maintain its place as one of English soccer's most enduring traditions. 

The details

As well as the final, the BBC will provide live coverage of two FA Cup matches from each round up to the quarter-finals, and one semi-final.

Despite not being as much of a global attraction as the EPL, the FA Cup still draws significant TV audiences – the recent semi-final between Manchester United and Coventry, for example, brought in an average viewing figure of 4.4 million and a peak of 7.1 million for ITV.

Under TNT Sports' agreement with the FA, meanwhile, the broadcaster will show every game live from the competition’s third round onwards – outside the 3pm domestic blackout slot across the UK – until the end of the 2028-29 season via its linear channels and WBD’s streaming platform Discovery+.

The package also includes rights to air the FA Community Shield and the FA Youth Cup semi-finals and finals.

The BBC also recently extended its long-standing deal to show highlights from the EPL and will air highlights from the UEFA Champions League elite European club competition for the first time next season under a three-year deal.”