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FA Cup weekends have gone the way of international breaks: Largely irrelevant

Just 7,616 attended Preston’s FA Cup game Saturday despite the stadium having a capacity of 23,404.


• Despite top English clubs competing in the FA Cup Third Round, fans of most clubs have ‘checked out’ on watching their favorite club — both in person and on television.


• Clubs laser-focused on league place in Premier League and impact of UEFA Champions League have pushed FA Cup way down the list of priorities.


• Fans’ obsession with Premier League and Champions League have marginalized international breaks, FA Cup and other lesser important competitions.


Ten years ago this weekend, Leeds United defeated Manchester United at Old Trafford. Jermaine Beckford’s winning goal was celebrated through football fandom around the globe. Once great title rivals of Manchester United, Leeds had fallen on hard times and plummeted all the way to League One. The match was highly anticipated and the result sent reverberations across the soccer world.

Beckford’s goal and Leeds victory was seen at the time as a celebration of football. But in this day and age “cupsets,” they often exist in a vacuum and are viewed by fans of bigger clubs as a blip on the radar, or even perhaps an opportunity to refocus on what really matters — the Premier League and the Champions League. Television’s role in this shift in priorities is unmistakable.

The FA Cup Third Round weekend was long considered the greatest weekend in English football. Plucky underdogs that had advanced to this point in the competition got the chance to knock-off Premier League and Championship sides – the very giant killings that previously made the football world go-round. The FA Cup has lost its luster as a television property. Timing, football fatigue and the seriousness with which clubs take the competition all factor into this decline.

This weekend’s FA Cup Third Round has, for many TV viewers around the world, become a weekend off from football, a time to catch up on other things after the intense festive period and 39 Premier League matches in 13 days. Broadcasters and media companies that show the Premier League often do not have FA Cup rights or do not promote them with the same vigor.

SEE MORE: Schedule of FA Cup games on US TV and streaming

For the top clubs, selling tickets has become difficult for cup ties as the matches lack appeal, and few clubs in the top two flights of English football put out full-strength sides. In the UK, the FA Cup does have matches on free-to-air television unlike the Premier League, but more often than not those matches aren’t attractive or don’t feature anything similar to the full strength sides on display week-in and week-out in the league.

For every club in the Premier League and the Championship, save a few, the FA Cup Third Round comes at the wrong time on the calendar and provides a chance to rotate the squad and experiment rather than emphasize results. The FA’s inability to generate the sort of TV revenue through the competition that is meaningful for bigger clubs means an emphasis on qualifying for Europe, staying in the Premier League or being promoted to the Premier League — all of which drives the priorities of clubs. This in turn drives coaching decisions and the emphasis of fans. Many fans and casuals have understood these priorities, and year-after-year shift further toward emphasis on the league and Europe.

Make no mistake about it, the shifting priorities for clubs has everything to do with television money and attracting viewers and fans from across the globe. Success in the Premier League and European competitions drive television interest and revenue while FA Cup or Carabao Cup failures make little difference in the overall profile of a club in this era. In many cases, fans and even those connected with the club quickly forget cup failures and move on to the more important business at hand, the league and for the very top clubs, Europe. Additionally, the FA Cup impact for each club from television revenue is minimal and cup success does little to attract new fans who are attracted to the English game based on television. The days of waxing lyrically about FA Cup Finals and their relevance for the biggest clubs in England ended probably around the time of the 2007 final between Chelsea and Manchester United. Since then, even when big clubs face off with each other in FA Cup semifinals and finals, the matches seem secondary to any league clashes between the same clubs even if silverware is not on the line.

In today’s atmosphere, the two great television properties of England’s Premier League and the UEFA Champions League dictate viewing habits and interests. Much like International breaks outside the major summer tournaments, the FA Cup Third Round weekend has become a time many tune out.

Romanticism remains a big part of football’s lore — the idea of giant killings drive narratives in the media and among older school soccer fans. However, in this era few fans are going out of their way to watch a giant killing on TV or streaming video live. If an upset along the lines of the Leeds win over Manchester United occurs, it becomes a temporary talking point or Twitter meme, before more important business resumes.

Fans who watch the sport regularly see FA Cup weekends in the same way as many view international breaks. The core, die-hard football fan, the romantic and the media stay engaged but the more casual fans, driven by television or by the more prestigious competitions, by and large, tune out.

The FA Cup still holds a lore for many fans, but in today’s age of Premier League domination of television, fixture congestion and global fans, its importance has faded. The relevance the cup has for fans had faded accordingly, and the biggest driver of this is television.

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  1. greg

    January 8, 2020 at 3:50 pm

    Also will add that I get the reluctance to pay for ESPN+ if you’re already paying cable and perhaps more for NBCSports gold pass, but wow, $5 / month for ESPN+ is a steal. They showed almost all (if not actually all) of the FA matches, including Liverpool v Everton, Man U v Wolves, etc..but the Serie A coverage, ELF Championship…and next season Bundesliga? Not sure about FA availability in other countries, but in the US, that $5 is a great value.

  2. greg

    January 8, 2020 at 3:46 pm

    Repeating what I posted here:

    I love the FA Cup & wish the FA loved it as much. But festive season overloads the football brain and when FA 3rd Round follows right after it’s no wonder people tune out. But it’s a great chance to see lower league teams and inter-tier matchups. It should be allowed to be unique again.

    An easy but perhaps extreme solution:

    Ditch the League Cup, use some of those weeks for league (including Premier League) matches to ease the festive season pile-up. This allows festive season fixtures to be kept to to Boxing Day and New Years Day or 1st Saturday after New Year’s Eve depending on how the calendar sorts out. Then slot the 3rd round proper FA to the Saturday following, but with a week of rest. Move the prize money from the League Cup to FA Cup, make it more worth the time.

    Less extreme, heard on Neil Ashton’s Sunday Supplement this week…make League Cup semis one match rather than two leg. Move one festive fixture matchweek to that open week and find a clear week between FA 3rd round and prior matchweeks.

  3. rkujay

    January 7, 2020 at 8:45 am

    Put the cup behind a pay wall, then lament the lack of fan enthusiasm. Hmmm?

  4. Joseph H Ackerman

    January 6, 2020 at 6:43 pm

    I used to love watching FA Cup games when they were on TV. Now they are all behind a locked pay wall and I am already paying the NBCSN tax to watch all of my team’s league games, so I just come here to read about the results instead of watching the matches.

  5. NaBUru38

    January 6, 2020 at 11:44 am

    Havibng two national cups is a major problem. The EFL Cup should disappear.

    Also the replay matches distort the schedule, they should be replaced by penalty kicks.

  6. Yespage

    January 5, 2020 at 11:33 pm

    Round 3 is compelling to cheer on the smaller sides.

    Round 3 does suffer from its place on the fixture calendar.

  7. Azer

    January 5, 2020 at 11:26 am

    The difference between the FA Cup and the International breaks is the access to watch games. The majority of the international games like the Qualifiers are available to everyone with good internet access on ESPN3 & some that are on ESPN+ can be found on TUDN with standard cable or it’s streaming service via log in. The FA Cup is hidden behind a paywall.

    • me

      January 5, 2020 at 11:43 am

      *a dirt cheap paywall.

      • Payasos

        January 5, 2020 at 1:39 pm

        Don’t try to reason with anyone about this here, they think all games should be free on OTA TV, even if they have low ratings, it doesn’t matter, networks should spend billions for rights and then give it away to GROW THE GAME!!!!!!!!

        • Azer

          January 5, 2020 at 9:28 pm

          Who said all games should be free? Do you have any idea how much money people spend on cable or satellite every month? Do some research. Why should they pay more? When does the greed stop? I agree $4.99 a month is cheap but the price is not the point here.

          • Ivan

            January 5, 2020 at 10:42 pm

            Thank you! I am already paying ESPN, NBC, etc monthly. I am not paying them a dime more for their subscription “streaming services”. ESPN can put on cable/satellite a football only channel in place of, say, ESPNU, or ESPN Classic.
            But, nooo, Mickey is greedy. If Mickey is greedy, this guy will not be paying Mickey.

            As a side note, Mickey, and all of you preaching the “streaming only” future of sports braodcasting forget is that thousands will be left behind. For example, my father is old school, he has cable, he ain’t paying $ for streaming services. Him and thousands like him and lost for good.

            But, hey, Mickey is greedy! Spolier alert, I watched the Liverpool Everton game today. Just not on ESPN Plus…BBC for the greedy Mouse!

            • me

              January 6, 2020 at 3:17 pm

              So instead of paying the very reasonable 4.99 for a ton of content because it’s “greedy”, you’re perfectly fine to essentially steal the content for free because the BBC broadcast isn’t intended for a US audience. You’re fine to pay for a VPN though to access the BBC service? Backwards thinking at its finest here if so.

            • Alex

              January 6, 2020 at 6:14 pm

              plenty of free streaming great quality on the internet.
              for every game, every competition, every sport.
              we are being milked by the cable companies , we pay enough already, not a cent more.

            • Rich

              January 7, 2020 at 9:25 am

              So, you want ESPN to kill off one of the channels just to stand up a soccer only outlet? I would love for this to happen but I’m not going to pout about it if it does not. Remember, the English football league, the FA cup, and Italian Serie A were all properties that essentially weren’t even on ESPN before they went to ESPN plus. It is new inventory.

              If you want to save money on soccer programming, drop your current service, by ESPN plus, by NBC gold, and buy the sling international package to get be in sports. You’ll pretty much have access to most of the best soccer in the world for like $20 a month.

          • Barry Slavsky

            January 6, 2020 at 2:17 pm

            Why is it that networks are greedy when they charge more than someone wants to pay but that same someone is not greedy when he wants the product for a lower price? On BOTH sides, not just one, it’s all about the money

        • Yespage

          January 5, 2020 at 11:31 pm

          I was watching FA Cup coverage on FS1 and FS2 before. I had to pay to get those channels. Now, no one carries FA Cup on Sat/Cable anymore.

          • TheOriginalTom

            January 7, 2020 at 1:13 pm

            ESPN+ showed a ton of games. Except for marquee events Sat/Cable is antiquated.

  8. Jesus

    January 5, 2020 at 10:16 am

    The problem with the FA Cup is that most Premier League teams use the early rounds to give their youngsters and 2nd stringers playing time. Also the timing is such that their first game is in the 3rd round which is just after the hectic Christmas-New Year period which forces teams to rest their starters. That is one reason so few supporters are excited about the competition. Should a team make it into the quarter-finals then supporters want their teams to go all-out to win the competition.
    Case in point, Liverpool are playing Everton in a few minutes and they have a very young side taking the field. Most Liverpool supporters would not be upset with Klopp for doing this because the FA Cup does not rank high as a priority for the top 4 clubs where the league title and Champions league are most important.

  9. Brendan

    January 4, 2020 at 11:55 pm

    The FA Cup 3rd round should be played on Boxing Day 26th of December & the replays played on the New Years Day which would allow the teams a break from the tough holiday fixture that some of the foreign managers complain about , They can rotate squads and allow the top players some needed rest . It would also boost attendances during the holiday period as people who don’t normally attend matches like to go as season ticket holders don’t have the privilege to attend Cup games but must pay like everyone else’s , Premier League fixtures could be played on that first week-end of the new year & 10 days later when the replays are scheduled , The League Cup semi-finals should be played as one game the week-end before Christmas like the FACup semi-finals are at Wembley in April which would free up more time in January to play Premier League fixtures

  10. Daniel

    January 4, 2020 at 11:14 pm

    Dont understand it. Every competition youre in. You should try to win it. Especially big clubs. So in other countries,they dont care about their cup matches. The Copa del Rey? DFB Pokal? Coppa Italia? Even their supercups. The English dont care. Ill never understand.

    • me

      January 5, 2020 at 11:41 am

      The simple fact is that money talks and it’s distorted the game beyond recognition. For any Premier League club, staying in the league is far more valuable to them than winning the FA Cup these days. Football became a business long ago.

      Then there’s the schedule, which is relentless for English clubs with no winter break like other leagues in mainland Europe get. If clubs don’t rest players then they’re ravaged by injuries and their league position tumbles…

      • Rich

        January 7, 2020 at 9:44 am

        The premier league has a winter break now.

    • Rich

      January 7, 2020 at 9:05 am

      Louis Van Gaal and Manuel Pelligrini Getting fired after winning both domestic cups should have told you all you needed to know about where the owners priorities are.

      Germany only has one domestic cup, plus they have far fewer league games due to having only 18 teams.

      • TheOriginalTom

        January 7, 2020 at 1:09 pm

        4 fewer league games in Germany, which I think is better. 38 games is too many.

  11. Ivan

    January 4, 2020 at 9:03 pm

    Thanks to ESPN Plus, that is. Not paying Mickey Mouse more than what I am already forced to pay, end of story. There are other ways to watch.
    FA Cup is still pretty damn awesome, btw.

    • John G.

      January 5, 2020 at 8:43 am

      I do not love Disney, but ESPN+ has become dirt cheap for what it now delivers in soccer alone.

      • Payasos

        January 5, 2020 at 1:40 pm

        Right. ESPN plus which is only in the U.S. has ruined the English FA cup? LOL!!!!!!!!!!! You do realize how dumb that sounds right????

      • Yespage

        January 5, 2020 at 11:29 pm

        Dirt cheap in the sense that I have to pay extra for something I was getting already.

  12. PapaSmith

    January 4, 2020 at 8:09 pm

    I still love the FA Cup.

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