Channel 4 is poised to trump ITV with a bid for England’s football friendlies in a bold bet on live sport as it battles privatisation.
The Telegraph understands the state-owned broadcaster is on cusp of sealing a deal with the FA and UEFA to bring 10 England games a year to the channel.
Sources said Channel 4 had emerged as a surprise bidder for the matches and had tabled an offer that had forced ITV to pull out of the auction process. An industry insider said Channel 4 was expected to clinch the deal as soon as next week, but there was no certainty an agreement will be made.
At the last auction in 2017, ITV had won the rights to show live coverage of England’s qualifiers to Euro 2020, the 2022 World Cup and friendlies. Sky, meanwhile, had secured England matches over a four-year period for the UEFA Nations League.
It is the latest foray into live sport from the station after more than nine million people tuned in to watch Emma Raducanu US Open victory following a deal it struck with Amazon to secure the free-to-air rights.
Traditional broadcasters are increasingly leaning on set-piece sporting events to bolster their advertising revenues because they have the power to prise viewers away from the American streamers.
However, the investment could put Channel 4 in line for criticism when its purpose is to fund edgy innovative shows the BBC would not make.
The move comes as Channel 4’s privatisation is expected to begin next year, with a sale likely to be completed by early 2024 at a price tag of around £1bn.
The Government is facing a significant political backlash from opposition parties and its own backbenchers. The House of Lords is expected to attempt to stall Government efforts to sell the channel in the hope that it can be delayed until the next election.
Channel 4 made an offer to invest an extra £200m a year in British shows over the next decade through a joint venture with a private backer, as part of an eleventh-hour attempt to stop Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries from offloading the broadcaster into private hands.
However, the proposal was rejected by ministers after they were advised by UK Government Investments (UKGI) – the body overseeing the government’s ownership of Channel 4 – that it posed an unacceptable risk to taxpayers.
Channel 4 and ITV declined to comment.