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?