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Why So Many Empty Seats For Cup Competitions?

Coventry City hasn’t been in the Premiership since the 2000-2001 season, when they were relegated after finishing 19th with 34 points. The Sky Blues have spent every season since then in the Championship, so close to England’s top flight, but yet so far. They’re a proud club — they’ve been in existence since the early 1880’s, they were a founding member of the Premier League, and have won the FA Cup.

Before that dismal ‘00-’01 campaign, Coventry had spent the previous 34 seasons in the First Division/Premiership. Their fans had been used to seeing the best opposition in the world on a week-in, week-out basis, so the drop to the Championship couldn’t have been easy. They’ve come nowhere near promotion since then; in fact, they’ve nearly been relegated to League One on a couple different occasions.

The Carling Cup Second Round started today, with Coventry welcoming Newcastle to the Ricoh Arena. Newcastle is a popular team in England and despite their lack of success in recent years, they’re by no means a bad side. One would think that a chance to upset a Premiership team in a one-off game in a cup competition would be a draw for Coventry fans. One would think the crowd would really be up for this game, even if it’s just to see a team they don’t get to see anymore because the two clubs aren’t in the same league. It came as a bit of a surprise, then, when I turned on the game and saw a half-filled stadium with a crowd quieter than the ones at some of my high school games, at least until Coventry equalized right at the death through a long throw-in into the box (Newcastle eventually won 3-2).

This is the problem with both the FA Cup and the Carling Cup, though. For some reason, and I’m wondering what it is, matches in these competitions don’t ever seem to sell out unless it’s the quarterfinal stage or beyond. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is; a “Big Four” team could come to town and there still probably won’t be a full crowd.

I don’t understand this, and I’m hoping you can help me out. These are cup games. They have more individual meaning than most any game in a 38-match (Premiership) or 46-match (lower leagues) schedule. In the Carling Cup, one team will advance and the knock the other out on that given day. In the FA Cup, the same could happen unless the game ends up in a draw, in which case the tie is decided in the return leg. Victories propel a side one step closer to a trophy. If a Premiership team goes to one of those lower league sides, that’s the best, most talented opponent they’ll see all season. The Carling Cup winner and usually both the FA Cup winner and runner-up receive a berth in the UEFA Cup, which is no small consolation prize for many teams. The domestic cups provide another chance to win a trophy, and it’s hard to argue with that.

It doesn’t make sense to me. Is it because the games are played on weeknights? It’s not like they go on late into the night, meaning people can still get home at a decent hour and be ready for work the next day. It’s my understanding that ticket prices are lower for cup games and at lower-league clubs, so that can’t have much to do with it.

Why do I see so many empty seats like I did today?

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  1. Lonnie

    August 29, 2008 at 10:06 am

    I was glad that Boro put out a strong side against Yeovil and are seeming to take the League Cup seriously. I hope we can do well and maybe even win the thing. An FA Cup or League Cup with a good showing in the league would be an awesome season and something to build upon.

  2. Fsquid

    August 28, 2008 at 10:34 am

    It is simple really. The EPL teams and the good Championship teams send their reserve squads out until the Quarterfinal stage at least. Why do I want to pay to see that? Especially if it was on TV like it was today?

    Hell, Sheffield Wednesday went out in the first round and no one seemed to really care on the message board.

  3. Michael

    August 27, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    Prospero, I was just using the Ricoh Arena as an example because it was visible yesterday, but this is a problem that exists at nearly every other stadium for cup games.

    I like some of Paul’s ideas, to be honest — I don’t believe England needs two domestic cups, but if they want to do that, than the Carling Cup needs to be revamped somehow to make it more exciting for the fans. Personally, I enjoy it already, but I know I’m in the minority there.

  4. ProsperoDGC

    August 27, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    There’s a simple solution to this: stupidity. When the Ricoh stadium was built, they put the TV camera stanchions above the home fans seating area. Consequently, the stand BENEATH the cameras are mostly full, while the stands opposite are often less than half full.

    This isn’t to say that other factors aren’t also at play — Sky’s TV money, the too-full football schedule, and so on — but the design of the stadium is the primary reason.

  5. Paul Bestall

    August 27, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    In regards to revitilising the League Cup, I still feel it has a place in the game, but how can it be overhauled?
    Do we invite Scottish and Welsh sides in and create a UK League Cup? Away goals could count double,scrapping extra time and penalties? All Premiership sides are drawn away from home in 2nd and 3rd rounds? Agree Premiership sides to play Under 23 sides viz a viz the Olympic football tournament? Increase the prize money? Involve conference sides? It still guarentees a European place to the winners so the pot is certainly worth winning but it needs surgery.

  6. Paul Bestall

    August 27, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    Sky and money have ruined everything that was great about English football?
    That argument simply does not hold water under any scrutiny at all.
    In the season 1991-1992, the season before Sky bought the rights and the Premier League was born, British football was littered with awful grounds, disgusting facilities, terrible pitches, crap kits, violence was still an issue at certain grounds, the England team was a laughing stock, English clubs had only just got back into Europe after a 6 year ban, unfit and overweight players playing terrible long ball football, non existent ITV television coverage, attendences were falling in all divisions and people were switching off from the game.
    So how just how did Sky and money destroy this halycon fantasy land of football? It never existed.
    Of course there are negatives to Sky, but attendances have never been higher since the end of the second world war, even teams in the conference have all seater stadiums, hooliganism is nowhere near the levels it used to be, families go to games now, you can see your team on vitually any format at any time, More money is trickling down the leagues than it used to and the Premiership is an international brand watched in almost every country in the world. The football we see week in week out in the Premiership is light years ahead of anything prior to 1992.
    Anyone who prefers that needs serious help.

  7. Simon Burke

    August 27, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    There is only so much football you can care about, i am not saying the Carling Cup is rubbish as in the past it provided some great moments , much like the FA Cup but does anyone really see the need for both? Most European leagues dont care about one cup, they have it but its treated poorly. In England we have 2, its overkill. Several top flight teams treat it as a hindrance to their league games and with European competitions now producing so many fixtures clubs have to prioritise and its only natural that the weaker of the 2 cups gets the brunt. One cup please.

  8. Blue Evertonian

    August 27, 2008 at 9:31 am

    Oops, that was me. Forgot to fill in all the blanks .. Shutup Matt :-))

  9. Anonymous

    August 27, 2008 at 9:28 am

    With the amount of games teams have to play, the big teams have to rest players at every opportunity. That isn’t just in The Carling Cup. Wigan had to rest players against Chelsea in the league! (according to Bruce’s interview after the game) As Matt says it is the money that has ruined it. Too much at stake for Premiership teams especially. As far as attendances go, they will improve once the competition develops a bit…… signed “Thick Evertonian” (You HAVE to be a Red are you Matt? …. in which case I say Typical response)

  10. Paul Bestall

    August 27, 2008 at 7:09 am

    If you take the Carling Cup seriously, as Tottenham did last season, it can generate great income, a trophy and UEFA cup place.
    Bolton, West Brom and Hull all got their just deserts last night by fielding weakened sides and concentrating more on Premier League survival. It’s an arguement I do not understand, a win is a win and breeds confindence and that is comething that these teams more than any other need in abundance. On the other side though, a lot of fans see it as an additional cost to see a lesser product.
    As The Gaffer points out would you pay £15-£10 to watch a reserve team play? If they want full stadia, clubs have to reward the fans who go week in week out, giving tickets free to season ticket holders, local school kids who can’t normally afford to go to league football or offering reduced prices for those fans that go to away games in the league.
    It’s not rocket science but some clubs treat it as an additional cash cow for a lesser product which fans are not willing to pay more than £10 for as the three teams last night found out, you can come unstuck very easily.

  11. The Gaffer

    August 26, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    Swansea had a fine win tonight against Hull City, beating them 2-1 in extra time to go through to the third round. But despite the club having large attendances (usually), tonight’s attendance was 8,600.

    Problem is that Hull fielded a second string side. Who wants to go to a match on a night when a club like Hull, hardly attractive, fields a second string? Doesn’t inspire me.

    The Gaffer

  12. Matt

    August 26, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    Evertonian being a typical thick Blue there…. The evidence suggests most teams care less for the League Cup seeing as most teams choose to rest players.
    Theres also the fact that football costs so much more to attend thesedays and thus fans would prefer to watch a match which really matters in the League.
    Then theres the fact theres more football on TV than ever before (and online) so people choose to either watch that match at home or another match.
    Basically, Sky and money have ruined everything that was great about English football.

  13. Michael

    August 26, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    Blue Evertonian, that is EXACTLY my point.

  14. Blue Evertonian

    August 26, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    No one … other than the “top four” DOESN’T care about the Carling cup. It gives them UEFA Cup access and a trophy for Gods sake. How can they not care about that? Why the British press persists in trying to devalue it is beyond me.

  15. Blue Evertonian

    August 26, 2008 at 7:52 pm

    Coventry have had problems with attendance ever since they were relegated. They compete with Wolves, West Brom. Birmingham and the big one, Aston Villa for fans (There are others I know). The Sky Blues will only regain their fan base back after they (if ever) regain their premiership status. Their die hard fans are VERY passionate but the “grey” fans won’t come back until they return to the top flight.

  16. Simon Burke

    August 26, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    The big clubs treat it as fodder, i have seen some of the smaller clubs treat it as fodder too. At the end of the day the FA Cup is the bigger of the 2 cups, and even that is treated poorly by some of the bigger clubs – those same clubs which have a bye through this round because they have more important things to worry about.
    I would get rid of the Carling Cup altogether, no country needs 2 cup competitions. Have one proper cup competition so that clubs have to take it more seriously.

  17. Michael

    August 26, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    Apparently not, but that’s the larger question.

    Why don’t they?

  18. SSReporters

    August 26, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    Is it because no one really cares about the Carling Cup?

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