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Thursday, 15 June, 2000, 18:13 GMT 19:13 UK
The cup comes home
Chelsea and Villa line up at Wembley
This year's final saw the lowest audience for years
The choice of the BBC to show the most attractive live FA Cup games is crucial in the Football Association's effort to win fans back to the world's most famous domestic cup competition.

Despite its recent setbacks the corporation has proved time and time again that more people watch sport when it is on the BBC than elsewhere.

As the BBC and ITV bid for viewers' loyalty ahead of this weekend's crucial England versus Germany clash, the corporation takes heart from recent results between the two terrestrial giants.
David Beckham celebrates in 1999
Manchester United's win in 1999 also failed to hit previous viewing figures

Whenever a game has been shown live by both in recent years, the Beeb has secured a 2-1 victory in terms of the proportion of the viewing public.

This Saturday will reveal whether this statistic was down to the presence of former BBC star Des Lynam or to other elements of the coverage.

But there is no question that the FA's decision is a boost to the corporation after it lost the Premiership highlights package to ITV on Wednesday.

It is also a clear indication that the FA is less motivated by money than the major clubs who conducted a straight auction for their crown jewels.

The governing body clearly wants to restore the cup to the place it once held in the nation's affections, perhaps at the expense of more lucrative offers from elsewhere.

.It has had a few knocks but we are ensuring that it is back into the type of competition people want to see

Adam Crozier

This year's final between Chelsea and Aston Villa pulled the lowest audience for years, netting ITV - and presenter Lynam - 7.2m viewers for a clash between two top six Premiership sides.

It has been suggested that the absence of Manchester United from this year's competition was a major factor.

But even with the attraction of the nation's most popular club in 1999, the final attracted 9.6m fans - down on the average of just over 11m armchair spectators the BBC used to gather for football's most famous Saturday.

Others will suggest that this loss of viewers is more a reduction of interest in the cup itself than the question of whose cameras are being broadcast.

But the FA clearly regards terrestrial television, and in this case the BBC, as a major weapon in the road to cup renewal.
Man Utd v Arsenal in 1979
Glory days: The 1979 FA Cup final was a popular classic

Seventy-nine percent of Britain's most-watched sports broadcasts were on the BBC, compared to ITV's 16% and satellite station Sky's figure of two percent.

Previous FA Cup deals involving Sky saw the satellite station creaming off the most attractive match every weekend, while the BBC and later ITV made do with the second choice.

But FA chief executive Adam Crozier clearly believes that the BBC - the "fans' favourite" in his words - should have the most attractive game in order to restore the magic of FA Cup weekend.

While paying tribute to BSkyB's innovative approach he said that the goal had been to ensure that "as wide an audience as possible on free TV had access to the best games".

Now it is up to the clubs to play their part - and their strongest sides - to ensure that the magic of the cup is as much a part of football's future as its past.

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