FA Cup rights in US could switch to streaming-only beginning in 2018/19 season

However the lure to The FA of BAMTech acquiring the FA Cup rights could be a mistake if all of the games available are placed behind the ESPN Plus paywall for the 2018/19 season onwards, thus reducing the visibility of the competition and not getting the same opportunity to feature a few select games on ESPN2 or ESPN Deportes as BAMTech has been doing this season for the League Cup.

In the last few years, the FA Cup Final from Wembley has been aired on the FOX broadcast network, which has given an increased exposure to what was once considered the biggest match of the year in English football. But the earlier stages of the tournament including this past weekend’s 4th Round have suffered from indifferent promotion by FOX Sports as well as a lack of interest from soccer fans. This is despite the reality that in most years, bigger clubs have advanced deep in the competition and each of the last four FA Cups have been won by either Arsenal or Manchester United, two of the most popular soccer clubs on American soil.

Much of the lack of interest in the competition’s earlier stages isn’t necessarily the fault of FOX Sports. Fewer and fewer teams are taking the FA Cup 3rd and 4th rounds seriously. While public perception and lazy narratives indicate it is just the top teams who take a lackadaisical attitude toward the early stages of the competition, in fact it’s just about every team in the Premier League who is either fighting for European qualification or against relegation as well as every Championship side fighting for promotion. As a result, many of the teams field weakened sides. For FOX Sports, they’ve had the opportunity to show some giant killings but often those matches involve heavily-rotated Premier League or Championship sides facing League One or League Two clubs.

The FA Cup once provided unmatched drama and fan interest, making the matches a strong complement to the general interest in English football that was growing in the United States. However, more recently with so much interest in the league itself as well as the unparalleled coverage NBC has provided, the FA Cup is an afterthought to many fans.

Also hampering FOX is the limitations on televised matches in the competition. Unable to offer the type of comprehensive coverage of multiple games at once that characterize most European football coverage in the US as well as the Carabao Cup on ESPN3, the FA Cup despite FOX’s best efforts seems to happen in isolation, in a vacuum. Given the tight programming schedule FS1 and FS2 already are under during the FA Cup early rounds due to college basketball and Bundesliga commitments, seeing FOX let the FA Cup go without much of a fight would not be shocking.

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