Guest editorial by Jeff Hash
When it comes to broadcasting the FA Cup in Britain, broadcasters always face a dilemma of who to highlight and who not to take a chance on. This can lead to choices that come back to bite them, as shown when nobody carried live Barnsley’s upset of Liverpool in the fifth round. Earlier today, the BBC made their last decision as an FA Cup broadcaster for at least three years, selecting West Bromwich Albion vs Portsmouth in the upcoming semifinal round. This means the other semifinal, between Barnsley and Cardiff City, will be on broadcast partner Sky.
But in this round, they aren’t alone in making a tough decision. The American broadcasters also face it’s own dilemma. Under the joint rights deal between Fox Sports International and Setanta North America, one of these two matches will only be available live on pay-per-view in the United States. The other will be shown live on Fox Soccer Channel. And neither match is truly an automatic choice.
Why select WBA vs Pompey? Name recognition. Portsmouth is seen on American TV a number of times thanks to being in the Premier League, while West Brom is only two seasons out of the same and are still somewhat familiar. Meanwhile, Barnsley hasn’t been in the PL in 10 years, and Cardiff never have. Known names are more likely to have a fan base who will make the effort to watch, even if it means paying.
On the other hand, Barnsley vs Cardiff has the shock factor. Would anybody on Earth have picked these two to be alive at this point? Portsmouth making the semis is nice but not a surprise, and WBA didn’t face any Premier League opponents in their four rounds (though, to be fair, the only one Cardiff faced was Boro). That shock factor, and worry of missing the next dramatic part of the story, could fuel buyers out of soccer fans. It also has one other factor on it’s side: start time. Barnsley and Cardiff will start at 4PM British Time Sunday, meaning an 11AM start in the east, 8AM in the west. WBA and Pompey, on the other hand, start at 12:15PM Saturday, translating to an early 7:15 AM start in the east and a near-comatose 4:15 AM in the west. Will fans without a commitment to either club get up that early, and then pay on top of that, to get their cup fix? I’m going to guess not.
Honestly, this is a lose-lose situation as far as Fox and Setanta go. With a lack of top four teams in either match, there isn’t going to be a lot to make in PPV sales. But it’s required, and they have to put up the match they think will do best. In this case, just like the ones made by their British counterparts, that choice could end up being second guessed by fans for a long time.