Arguably the most special weekend of the footballing calendar, the third round of the FA Cup, takes place from Friday to Monday night. But the TV companies have stolen some of the magic by overlooking compelling fixtures and televising Premier League giants against League One clubs instead, argues Tom Simmonds.
Exeter v Liverpool is the BBC’s choice for the Friday night televised game. Wycombe Wanderers v Aston Villa is the Saturday lunchtime live game on BT Sport. Both fair enough, particularly in the second case. An ascendant lower division side at home to a dispirited, relegation-bound Premier League outfit is a fixture in prime upset territory. Even if Villa do manage to overcome the Chairboys, a good few passages of the game could feature the sort of drama that those who market the FA Cup mine remorselessly for commercial purposes.
So far so good; however, a look at the rest of the games chosen for live coverage shows that this appreciation of the competition’s heritage did not feature very highly in the thought processes of those selecting them. In Sunday’s Oxford v Swansea match, you have a similar scenario to that at Adams Park on Saturday, even if Swansea are not as forlorn as Villa. It is at least live on BBC Wales, but it has been overlooked for the prime time 4pm Sunday slot on national TV in favour of Tottenham v Leicester.
It is undeniable that these two teams are enjoying fine Premier League seasons so far and are attractive outfits. Spurs are a big enough club to tempt Californians to watch them over their Sunday morning Cornflakes and coffee and rouse Malaysian fans in the middle of the night. Hell, this fixture was even the FA Cup final in 1961. Despite this it’s all a bit, well, bog standard. An ordinary Premier League fixture recast in a cup competition. The decision to put this on telly is a safe choice by an organisation that will probably never show the Premier League itself live, but an exceedingly dull one.
The BBC’s choice looks left field when we look at BT Sport’s Saturday night and Sunday lunchtime selections. Settle down to some of that magic in the form of two of the country’s biggest clubs playing League One opposition. With the big clubs at home. If we’re being generous, the people who chose Chelsea v Scunthorpe and Manchester United v Sheffield United for live coverage might have mistakenly thought the Blades and the Iron were drawn at home.
That would actually be a more palatable explanation than the likely reality, which is that United and Chelsea have huge TV audiences and that their fans will tune in in droves to watch them (probably) beat up on lesser opposition as a way of asserting themselves in the middle of the disappointing seasons both have endured so far.
It could be argued that both of these fixtures do have some potential for ambulance chasing (owing to the aforementioned poor form of both sides), Sheffield United’s penchant for causing cup upsets in recent seasons and the ghost of Chelsea’s 4-2 defeat by Bradford in the fourth round last season still fresh in the memory at Stamford Bridge. It isn’t likely though, is it?
Oxford v Swansea, Eastleigh v Bolton and Doncaster v Stoke. Three more matches made of the material that has made the FA Cup the compelling competition it is. Maybe there is some poetic justice that the last two of that trio are being played at the traditional time of 3pm on Saturday. If the TV companies wanted an all-Premier League tie, Norwich v Man City would have been justifiable on the grounds of City’s dodgy away form. Aside from the two earlier games, what we can see in this scheduling is the competition’s soul being further debased at the altar of ratings and sponsorship; and we should all feel a sharp pang of sadness in response.
Do you agree with Tom that the wrong choices have been made, or should market forces always trump romance when it comes to TV scheduling?
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