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England looks to US sports to add glitz to FA Cup

Seeking to restore the allure of the FA Cup, English soccer is looking to American sports to see how some glitz can be added to the final of world soccer's oldest domestic cup competition.

Once the main event in the English soccer calendar and a must-see TV event globally, some of the cup's appeal has been lost as the more lucrative Premier League and Champions League appear to be outshining the 140-year competition.

Wembley Stadium has staged NFL regular-season games for five years, giving a glimpse of how the FA Cup final could be spiced up with more entertainment and glamor there.

"We are always learning, we are investing more internal marketing resources alongside that (broadcaster) ITV and Budweiser put in," FA General Secretary Alex Horne said while overlooking the Wembley field.

"As a collective we all think we can make something more of the day of the final and the event — whether it's on the pitch or the buildup to the event.

"Of course we can learn from the NBA events or the NFL events ... there are many people who do this well."

While looking west across the Atlantic for inspiration on event management, Horne is not losing sight of the competition's big fan base in the East.

"The FA Cup continues to attract huge audiences throughout the world, especially in Asia," Horne said. "China and Thailand are huge markets for English football and the FA Cup in particular. We had a global audience of half a billion for the FA Cup final last year, so we know it's a very relevant product."

But the FA Cup final could be moved from its traditional kickoff time this season in a bid to boost British TV audiences, potentially hitting Asian viewing figures.

The final is set to be at 5:15 p.m. instead of 3 p.m, while talks are under way with the Premier League about preventing a repeat of last season when the match had to be played on the same day as a topflight league program for the first time in 50 years.

That led to Manchester United clinching a record 19th league title just before local rival City ended a 35-year trophy drought by lifting the FA Cup at Wembley.

"The important thing for us is giving (the final) an identity, even if it is not on the last day of the season," Horne said.

The problem of the FA Cup final sharing the day with other big matches in England could be exacerbated by the Champions League final returning to Wembley in 2013 after being staged there last May. UEFA needs the stadium for two weeks before the match.

But ahead of the fourth round this weekend, the FA has sought to highlight the enduring value of the cup, with a study showing that clubs have collectively earned around $1 billion over the past 10 years in prize money, TV payments and ticket revenue.

Such rewards can have a transformational effect on teams — particularly those lower down the pecking order.

"When Burton secured a replay at Old Trafford (against Manchester United in 2006) they earned $1.1 million in that year," Horne said. "That enabled them to pay off the debt on their stadium, invest in playing talent and ultimately progress into the Football League.

"Crawley last year earned $2.4 million from the competition, including a 1-million pound ($1.6 million) payday at Old Trafford."

The FA Cup is in the first year of a $38 million, three-year title sponsorship deal with American beer brand Budweiser.

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Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarrisUK