The fourth round of the FA Cup took place this weekend, but the weekend’s games were largely muted affairs. Managers fielded weakened sides and spoke of focusing on other competitions, while fans have talked about how the FA Cup has “lost its magic”. Managers, players and fans seem increasingly ambivalent about the FA Cup, but is that really true? And why?
FA Cup What’s Happening:
Premier League clubs aren’t bothering to hide that they don’t take the FA Cup as seriously as they used to. Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur made five, six and seven changes respectively. Despite United and Spurs facing top-flight opposition in Arsenal and Crystal Palace. Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino seemed unconcerned about his side’s 2-0 defeat, playing down the occasion and emphasising the importance of the other competitions that the club is involved in. League leaders Liverpool were knocked out in the previous round, having given three youngsters their senior debuts. The FA Cup is no longer a priority for England’s big clubs.
The fact that fans are less enthusiastic about the competition is completely understandable. Live football is on TV more than ever before thanks to huge broadcasting deals. It’s become easy to watch several hours of high quality football every week. Watching a Chelsea side that features a number of youngsters and backups comfortably beat a bottom-half Championship side just isn’t that exciting in comparison.
The main reason (as is often the case in football these days) is money. Premier League clubs are expected to bring in more than 4 billion pounds over the 2018-9 season, the majority of that amount coming from broadcasting revenue. Moving up one place in the Premier League table can earn you up to £2,000,000. When you consider that higher finishes are correlated with having more games broadcast on TV, in practice than number is even higher.
The sixteen clubs clubs who progressed to the fifth round of the FA Cup over the course of this weekend received less than a tenth of that sum. For Premier League clubs the FA Cup is more trouble than it’s worth. Prize money and broadcasting revenues pale in comparison to the Premier League until at least the semi final stage. Your club’s players can be injured, or too fatigued to perform at their best in the next Premier League game. There’s too much risk, and the reward isn’t particularly worthwhile. From an economic point of view it’s extremely hard to justify fielding a full-strength lineup in the cup. A cup run is not worth the potential negative impact on a club’s league performance.
The vast majority of the FA Cup’s participants do not play in the Premier League, though. The FA Cup can completely change the fortunes of smaller semi-professional and amateur sides. Following a shock run to the Third Round of the FA Cup in the 2007-8 season, Chasetown F.C. were able to expand their stadium as well as build a number of new facilities for the club and its fans. More fans attended the club’s home games in each of the following three seasons than before their cup run, and the club went on to be promoted to the seventh tier in 2010. The FA Cup has certainly lost much of its appeal in recent years. It does, however, remain a huge opportunity for England’s smaller clubs.