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Viewers looking at the television schedules for last night may have noticed a gap in the football coverage. For the first time in more than two decades, there were no highlights from the FA Cup First Round on the television on the Saturday night after the matches were played, and viewers were forced to wait until this morning to catch up with what happened yesterday afternoon instead. It is a decision that says a lot about the over-stretched resources of our broadcasters, as well as fall from grace that the world’s oldest football competition has suffered in recent years.
In terms of the television coverage of football in Britain, few other broadcasters are attacked for their output to the same extent that ITV is, and this criticism is not always fair. This company does, however, have a unique way of acting in a way that seems tailor made to anger ordinary football supporters. It is well known that commercial imperatives dictate the way in which its television coverage – consider, for example, its decision not to broadcast the final of Euro 2008 after none of the home nations reached the finals of that competition – but for many the First Round Proper of the FA Cup is sacrosanct, a unique day in the sun for smaller clubs, which has now been relegated to the relative graveyard shift of a Sunday morning.
None of this is to say that there was no football on ITV last night. Having broadcast the international friendly match between England and Spain live at tea time, ITV showed highlights of this (largely as dull as ditchwater) match later in the evening as well. Of course, whether the match between England and Spain was entertaining or not is hardly the issue at hand, here. After all, the television schedules would have been decided prior to kick-off at Wembley yesterday. That the commercial broadcaster decided to show the same match twice and push back highlights from the FA Cup to this morning may, however, say something about their priorities and, perhaps more troublingly, about the priorities of football in the twenty-first century.
It frequently feels as if there is no place for the smaller clubs in the football media landscape of the twenty-first century. That the First Round of the FA Cup should have been jettisoned in favour of an international friendly match – a match which had no relevance to anything, other than being a bit of practice and an exhibition – speaks volumes about the gap between the rich and the poor in modern English football. There was plenty of entertainment to be had in the FA Cup yesterday, not to mention that this was competitive football with something very tangible at stake for those taking part, but without the gloss of star names, it can only be presumed that it wasn’t considered a big enough draw to warrant the sort of audience that television advertisers would demand.
Considering that the England match was played at tea-time on a Saturday afternoon, though, we may well pause to consider what the motive behind repeating the match in the evening might have been. After all, the live broadcast was hardly at a time that could be described as inconvenient for those that wished to watch it and, of course, the international break ensured that there were no Premier League or Championship matches clogging up the schedules elsewhere. Even if there wasn’t necessarily the space in the schedules to show both programmes last night, the question of whether there was a vast audience that wished to watch the England match for a second time is probably a valid one.
Under normal circumstances, the cries of critics to return the competition to the BBC would normally start to grow, but the media landscape has changed vastly over the last couple of years and the cuts at the BBC have been perhaps more keenly felt in their sports coverage than anything else and it has begun to feel of late as if the will of the corporation to compete on sports rights has been sapped. The FA Cup has slipped further and further down the pecking order in recent years in terms of value to broadcasters, and the internal upheaval at the BBC has made them less likely to bid for terrestrial rights in the near future. The current television contract for the FA Cup runs to the end of the 2013/14 season, so if this is the way that things are to be, it is likely that they will stay like this for a couple of years to come yet.
This morning – at the exact time of writing – the highlights from yesterday’s FA Cup First Round matches were broadcast, and it is perhaps worth taking a moment to bear in mind that ITV’s resources have been similarly stretched by cost-cutting in recent years. This means that their resources are stretched for the often expensive business of covering sport for a television audience. It’s probably also worth mentioning that at least they are on at all – there was a time when we would have had to wait a long time for anything like extended highlights from the early rounds of the this competition. Ultimately, though, it is also worth pointing out that it is down to supporters to turn out to matches and watch the programmes that are on, if they want the FA Cup to return to anything like the prominence that it once held.
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Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
The most noticeable two things, for us, though, is the fact that ITV revenues are generally up this year yet their coverage of the FA Cup has been slashed.
Last year there were highlights of qualifying round games. This year, they didn’t even mention the Cup until the 1st Round draw.
Chelsea,Arsenal,Leeds,Sunderland Liverpool West Ham Southampton Man Utd Ipswich Arsenal West Ham. That is every cup winner between 1970 to 80 off the top of my head and i could go on Spurs 81 and 82 Man united in 83. Last seasons final was played before the season had ended and i honestly can not remember the previous seasons winner.The point being the cup has lost it’s appeal, there are several reasons one of which is the big clubs don’t want it when it distracts from coming 4th in the Premiership.
To the best of my knowledge, and from speaking to friends and others who work in the industry, ITV informed the FA some time ago that if the FA Cup and England were on the same day, then they’d struggle to get enough staff together to edit a highlights package (which, having been close to that side of things, I know is a massive job at this stage of the competition) and fulfill their obligation for England coverage as well. Obviously, despite being meaningless, England highlights will always be more attractive to advertisers.
Not absolving ITV of blame here, but if they’d made the FA aware a while ago, then could the FA have not moved the game to a Friday night instead?
Not to mention the issues with first round replays clashing with the Champions’ League (not a league, not for champions). Stourbridge’s heroics on Saturday at Home Park deserve an outing on live TV for the replay at the War Memorial Ground, but because of the endless tedium of the CL, they look destined to miss out.
I was shocked to see there were no highlights on Saturday evening, which seemed a huge shame given there were no PL or Championship highlights to contend with.
Despite being a member of englandfans, I chose to watch my team in the FA Cup instead of attending England v Spain. As I was travelling home at the time of the Wembley match, I was grateful that the England highlights were repeated so soon so I could see the game when I got home. I even managed to avoid the result, although ITV spoiled this by announcing it without warning on the late-running news broadcast that was on when I flicked over for the highlights.
However to give an hour of airtime to one meaningless friendly and the same amount to 40 cup ties
However to give an hour of airtime to one meaningless friendly and the same amount to 40 cup ties, relegated to just part of the build up to the live game is a real shame for the competition and football in this country.
Couldn’t get care less about England anymore. And I never cared about friendlies even back when I did follow England!
The like of Cole, Terry, Rooney, and all their sworded escapades off the pitch over the years, have just completely turned me off our national side.