The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: FA Cup Magic Dampened By Dismal TV Picks

Both BBC and ITV missed the point when it came to their live games this weekend
12:55, 10 Jan 2022

It was an absolutely vintage weekend of FA Cup action. League One Cambridge United got themselves a Premier League scalp away at the richest club in the world, Newcastle United, Morecambe gave Spurs a massive scare as they went 1-0 up at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and lowest-ranked side Kidderminster Town secured a historic win against Championship Reading. 

Shrewsbury took an unlikely lead against a Liverpool side with Virgil van Dijk and Andy Robertson at the back, Boreham Wood made it through against AFC Wimbledon and Barnsley played out a 5-4 humdinger with Barrow. Yet, none of these matches were shown live on terrestrial television. 

Instead, BBC and ITV, who now have the privilege of showing this prestigious competition and bringing its stories into millions of households around Britain, decided to bore us with fixtures we have all seen before. Only Swindon’s televised fixture at home to Manchester City, and arguably, Nottingham Forest’s win over Arsenal had reason to be shown live as ITV’s four fixtures and BBC’s choices left an awful lot to be desired. 

Take tonight’s match-up, live on BBC One. Manchester United vs Aston Villa. This exact fixture will be shown again on Sky Sports this Saturday afternoon as two Premier League sides do battle. United are the biggest club in the country and will attract a big audience, but there is no magic here. 

Any all-Premier League tie, in the FA Cup Third Round, should not be shown on television. It’s simply not what the cup is about. 

On Sunday afternoon, at the same time as Morecambe were leading Tottenham away from home and Shrewsbury led at Anfield, ITV viewers had to suffer as West Ham edged out Leeds. It was certainly not a game for the neutrals and there is no reasoning behind this decision making, apart from viewing figures. 

Most football fans would prefer to watch a classic underdog story, and surely with Liverpool and Tottenham involved, those games would have had as large of an audience share, or an even bigger one, as this all-Premier League tie. Millwall, whose fans chanted homophobic abuse, booed the knee and threw bottles, were given the privilege and financial benefit of being on television against Crystal Palace rather than a non-league side being featured on ITV. Talking of viewing figures, which is surely the only logical explanation for these dismal decisions, they only truly apply to one of the broadcasters.

Given that the BBC don’t rely on advertising for their income, audience figures don’t financially affect them. Therefore, they should be the ones picking out the plum ties that the majority of football fans truly want to see. Kidderminster vs Reading would have made for a much better story than United vs Villa tonight, and it is up to our broadcasters to help keep the magic alive. 

Luckily for the lowest-ranked side still left in the competition, they have drawn West Ham at home in the pick of the round four ties, a fixture that is unlikely to be ignored again. The other non-league side left, Boreham Wood, have an away tie at Championship high-flyers Bournemouth to look ahead to, which should be on TV, but given what we saw this weekend, probably won’t be. 

Lower-league sides need the television money and the only chance they get is a plum draw in the FA Cup. If broadcasters are no longer showing those matches, what chance have they got?

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