The Decline Of Television And The Decline Of The FA Cup

By on Dec 8, 2011 in English League Football, Latest | 8 comments

Confirmation of the live televised matches for the Third Round of the FA Cup came early this year, and while there was no great shock in the Manchester derby – a match which has, arguably, taken on a heightened level of importance given the events in the Champions League last night, even if it still isn’t the main even of either teams season – it was a little surprising to see that the decisions were taken by both ITV and ESPN before next weeks Second Round replays had even been played. And there may, whether surprisingly or not, be one or two smaller clubs looking at the matches chosen and wondering how they managed to fail to make the grade.

A total of five matches will be shown live on the television by the two broadcasters over the course of the first full weekend of the new year. ITV will show the matches between Manchester United & Manchester City and Peterborough United & Sunderland on Sunday the 8th January,  while ESPN will show the matches between Birmingham City & Wolverhampton Wanderers and Bristol Rovers & Aston Villa on the Saturday, as well as the match between Arsenal & Leeds United on the Monday evening.

It is difficult to envisage the circumstances under which the Manchester derby would not have been selected for live television coverage, even if this is a match that some may feel doesn’t rank as very much more important than the two teams’ meeting in the Community Shield in August. The match between Peterborough United and Sunderland is an interesting choice, for sure. Peterborough’s London Road ground certainly has a hint of that retro feel that broadcasters seem to be looking for when covering the FA Cup, and the match between Bristol Rovers and Aston Villa may turn out to be a tricky one for the Villa manager Alex McLeish, should his team’s form not start to significantly pick up in the three weeks or so beforehand.

The other two matches, however, may cause something of a raising of the eyebrows. The match between Birmingham City & Wolverhampton Wanderers may produce an upset of sort, but, no matter how tepid Birmingham’s return the the Championship may have been this season, Wolves’ form in the Premier League has been no better and it woud be difficult to script a match between these two sides as being in any way a David & Goliath fixture. Finally, the match between Arsenal and Leeds United will be a repeat of a match that was shown live at this stage of the competition and, whilst both are a big draw in their own right, it is difficult to get away from the bottom line, which is that this is a match between a side sitting in fifth place in the Premier League and one sitting in fifth place in the Championship. Leeds pushed Arsenal close in last year’s match – it would be difficult to imagine a repeat of that this time around.

Amongst those clubs that might feel as if they have been a little let down by the choices of the broadcasting companies are Gillingham, whose match against Stoke City sees the Stoke manager Tony Pulis return to Priestfield, where he managed between 1995 and 1999, Chelmsford City and Macclesfield Town, whose replay next week at Moss Rose sees the winners face off against another struggling Premier League club, Bolton Wanderers, and Fleetwood Town, for whom a win in their replay against Yeovil Town would set up a local derby match against Blackpool. Yet the fact that the broadcasters have opted for matches that have the best chance of pulling in the biggest audiences on the coat tails of the Premier League should come as little surprise, since televised FA Cup football is a prime example of – inthe sense of it being a shared experience – a slowly dying medium broadcasting a competition that is starting to feel as if it is in the same state.

All of this comes at a time of flux for the FA and its television rights for international and FA Cup football. There can be little doubt that the prestige – or what there was of it – of the England national team and of the FA Cup has taken some serious knocks in recent years, and this, along with savage cuts forced upon the BBC by the new government have meant a less competitive television rights sales markets. Commercial broadcasters ITV and ESPN have found the market considerably less competitive of late than in recent years and have cashed in accordingly – ITV managed a 25 per cent reduction in their new contract with the FA and the governing body – with Wembley still not paid for and its products on the wane – can hardly be described as being in a strong negotiating position.

If this makes it sound ITV is in a strong position, then this could also be misleading. If the future of television lays somewhere between on demand services and pay tv, then ITV continues to be something of a reluctance of the past. It has no serious challengers for free to air broadcasting rights – the BBC remains enfeeble, Channel Four has shown precious little interest in covering the game since the Football Italia days of the 1990s, and Channel Five’s pockets don’t seem deep enough to launch a serious challenge for television rights that any other broadcaster would want to fight over – so we can probably expect it to continue to profit and irritate in equal measures with its Champions League, FA Cup and international coverage for the time being, at least.

And herein lies the crux of the FA’s problem. Its signature dishes – England international matches and the FA Cup – are both in state of decline and it is dependent on a market – television – which is in decline up to a point, while the lion’s share of the revenue that is still being thrown at the sport is now being thrown at the Premier League and the Champions League, and all of this comes in ten years that has seen the governing body spend a frankly mind-boggling amount of money on a new stadium. This has already led to a cut in FA Cup prize money which has arguably already affected lower division clubs, and perhaps now the time is right to break with outmoded, traditionalist ideas to breathe new life into the world’s oldest cup competition for the twenty-first century. The alternative is the continuing decline of the competition, and that would be an ongoing tragedy for English football as we understand it.

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    8 Comments

  1. Your argument against putting Arsenal V Leeds on television is mind boggling and seems heavily biased, apart from the Manchester derby this is perhaps the most stand out fixture. Look at Leeds’ history in recent years in cup competitions, they have beat the likes of Manchester United at old trafford as well as drawing with Spurs and Arsenal in their own back yard . TV companies will always look for ratings, ALWAYS, and Arsenal v Leeds is guaranteed ratings due to two main reasons: Leeds and Arsenal both have a great number of supporters, as well as neutrals know the history of Leeds and have seen them compete as underdogs in the last few years. So overall it would be a travesty for this game to not be shown in favour of much much smaller games.

    Jordan Byrom

    December 8, 2011

  2. I can see where Jordan is coming from. My immediate instinct is usually to want to see something like Fleetwood v. Blackpool as I do like the opportunity to see smaller clubs that you would not normally get a chance to see on television. And yet I know that there is a good chance that if the big club scores an early goal, it will not go on to be much of a contest and will therefore become a bit boring. There does seem a chance that Leeds could at least give Arsenal a close game (though it does have to be admitted that Arsenal at their best could run riot) and these two clubs, for better or worse, are likely to bring more viewers simply due to having more fans in the first place. So, adding likely competition (and more chance of a ‘shock’ result) and viewing figures into the mix, it no surprise that Leeds and Arsenal would get put on ahead of a game that would pull less viewers and is at even more of a risk of being really one-sided.

    James

    December 8, 2011

  3. Why wouldn’t the broadcasters show Arsenal vs Leeds? As you pointed out both clubs are big draws, Leeds have recent history in pushing or testing Premier League opposition in Cup competitions Liverpool in the Carling Cup, Manchester United in the FA Cup, Arsenal in the FA Cup and Tottenham in the same competition have all recieved more than they bargained for against the media’s most loathed ‘fallen giant’ Leeds United.

    Aside from that Leeds and Aresnal has substation FA Cup history, of course there’s the 1972 1-0 win for Leeds United, in 1991 the fourth round tie between the clubs went to a 3rd replay with Arsenal eventually taking the spoils (if I’m not mistaken) and of course last year Leeds United were denied a second consecutive third round victory against a ‘big’ Premiership club away from home with a contentious penalty awarded in the 90th minute to the home side.

    It’s also a chance to break away from the rather drab Premier League fixture calander which features such blockbusters as Bolton vs Wigan and showcase two historically successful club with huge international fan bases (I’m writing this from Australia) fight it out in a winner takes all game.

    What’s not to love?

    Jamie

    December 9, 2011

  4. The magic of the FA cup has always been its tradition. Lets go back to 3pm kick offs (or at least all on the same day) , next round draws at 5pm and highlights of as many games as posible shown on TV in the old Match of the Day style.
    FA cup days used to be special, with pre match buildups, ‘giant killing’, visiting lower league grounds etc., and still would be if they hadn’t been tampered with.

    Steve

    December 9, 2011

  5. Incredibly, Leeds United’s last 12 consecutive FA cup ties have been live on TV going back as far as the 07/08 seaso. Like it or not, Leeds are a cash cow for the TV companies. We have a big fan base all over the country that is probably only behind (and I think level with some of) the “top 4” in the premiership. Plus footballs general hatred of Leeds United means most opposition fans will tune in to cheer on whoever we are playing. Together with a run of tasty FA cup fixtures for Leeds what else did you really expect?

    Chris

    December 9, 2011

  6. The answer is simple – give the FA Cup winners a place in the Champions League. It would immediately restore meaning, interest, and (sadly but importantly) cash incentive to the competition.

    Unfortunately, the FA are more likely to admit playing semi-finals at Wembley is a bad idea than even contemplate it.

    Frank Heaven

    December 9, 2011

  7. Frank Heaven is utterly mistaken, his answer is so simple he hasn’t bothered to check its accuracy. The last team to WIN the FA Cup who didn’t already have Champions League qualification were Portsmouth (v Cardiff) in 2008, before that it was Everton in 1995.

    It also seems to have escaped his understanding that the FA don’t decide who gets Champions League qualification but UEFA; and they have repeatedly rejected requests for the FA Cup winners to be allowed to enter.

    I agree with Steve, TV has single-handedly destroyed the magic of the Cup and to return to all games kicking off at 3pm on a Saturday, with no live game at all until the 6th round and everyone will be clamouring to watch the games again. But TV won’t like that and their money calls the tunes.

    PETE

    December 9, 2011

  8. Blues v wolves is on as it can be billed as a derby…rightly or wrongly.

    Often Partisan

    December 11, 2011

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