Another FA Cup weekend, another broadcasting failure 0

Yesterday was a very frustrating day.  With the FA Cup in an obvious decline, the television companies collectively ignored Blyth Spartans’ game with Birmingham City and opted for a series of safe, Premier League-themed matches instead.

The wider problem with that and its effect on the tournament is discussed here, but it was particularly grating yesterday because Blyth/Birmingham is exactly the sort of fixture that used to be synonymous with the FA Cup.  It’s the underdog story, the David vs Goliath narrative, the impossible dream…whatever you want to call it.

With no Premier League interest, though, it was predictably passed over in favour of showing Arsenal against Hull today and Everton versus West Ham on Tuesday night.

That’s exactly the kind of broadcasting decision which makes this such an irritating time of year.  Both the BBC and BT Sport have relied heavily on cup cliches to promote their coverage, yet they’ve gone out of their way to avoid the kind of games which spawn those platitudes.

You can point to Manchester United’s game with Yeovil today or Liverpool’s visit to AFC Wimbledon tomorrow as evidence to the contrary, but those selections represent a desire to draw a big audience and nothing else - every game that United or Liverpool play in the cup this year will be televised, regardless of the opposition they face.

It’s just a happy coincidence that, this weekend, those games are against lower-league opponents.

The public want games that they can get emotionally invested in.  Outside of watching their own side play or perhaps rooting for a team who they’ve backed to win, how often does a neutral get to really care about a result?  The FA Cup creates that opportunity; it produces games which transcend that natural passivity and allows a viewer, someone with no long-term interest in the result, to really care about what they’re watching.

Don’t expect this to change any time soon, because viewing figures and advertising revenue rule this selection process, but compare the social media response to that Blyth/Birmingham game to the equivalent during Arsenal’s half-hearted stroll past Hull this evening.

That, right there, is the problem. The broadcasters are fostering indifference through their short-term thinking.  Television has an obligation to this tournament and the continued deference to the Premier League is destroying everyone’s enthusiasm for what used to be an integral part of English football.

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