Manchester United are currently trying to get £50 out of 9,000 season ticket holders before their FA Cup replay against Cambridge United on Tuesday. Their policy is clear: season ticket holders are obliged to pay for any cup games if and when they arrive regardless of opposition, but naturally some don't want to pay to see Louis van Gaal's £400 million men take on a League Two side, especially as it's on television.
Even though the Red Devils are struggling to get their own fans to watch the game, BT Sport snapped up the rights to show it on their channel complete with half a dozen pundits and an excessively long buildup. It's justice for Cambridge United, who will get £247,500; probably enough to pay their wage bill for the rest of the season. For Manchester United, it won't even cover Radamel Falcao's wages for a week.
It will be Manchester United's 44th consecutive televised FA Cup game. Not since 2005, when they drew 0-0 with Exeter was a game not shown nationwide. In anticipation of Manchester United beating Cambridge United, the BBC chose to televise their probable fifth round tie against either Preston North End or Sheffield United away–taking that record up to 45.
Meanwhile Bradford – voted the biggest giant killers in FA Cup history by Match of the Day fans after beating Chelsea 4-2 at Stamford Bridge – were ignored. Their tie against Sunderland or Fulham is one of just three fifth round games that won't be televised.
"Whoever made the decisions at the BBC and BT Sport should hang their heads in shame"
That £247,500 will – I stress, probably – go to Old Trafford where it won't even register amongst the millions coming in from their 30 commercial partners. Officials from Old Trafford will just be thankful its not at home, lest they face more controversy over their enforced ticket buying policy.
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Bradford are angry and rightly so. Their chairman, Mark Lawn, blasted the BBC and BT Sport for depriving them of their deserved coverage and the cash bounty that comes with it.
He told The Mirror: "Whoever made the decisions at the BBC and BT Sport should hang their heads in shame. They all promote the FA Cup's magic and romance, but where's the magic gone now?
"The TV money will go to the Premier League clubs. They really need the money don't they?
"Last Saturday, our win got voted on Match of the Day as the biggest shock ever, so surely we deserve to be shown on television in the next round. It feels as if they've taken all the magic away from us. Where's the romance and magic going to be when they just want to show all the big clubs?
"Is there something I'm missing? I don't understand how we can't be one of the five televised games after our efforts last Saturday.
"How can they justify it? It's a disgrace."
Not the first time
It is the second time the BBC have been branded a disgrace for their lackadaisical coverage of the 144-year-old cup competition. They shifted their coverage of Blackburn v Swansea City to BBC Two Wales - Sky channel 971. Meanwhile, Bargain Hunt took pride of place on BBC One.
The attendance at Ewood Park was indicative of the FA Cup's problem. Only 6,000 turned up to what would be a fantastic victory for the Championship side. They won 3-1, but only a few determined individuals managed to see it live either at the ground or in the comfort of their own homes.
We shouldn't be surprised by Manchester United's incredible cup run. Even last season, their worst in Premier League history, they were still shown live on television 25 times out of 38 games. This season its 16 out of 22. In comparison, Sunderland have had to settle for six, one of which was against Manchester United.
'We have selected what we believe to be the best fixtures, given all the potential scenarios'
But those selections are more justified; the Premier League is a global business and the 325 million Manchester United fans in Asia aren't interested in seeing a relegation scrap between two clubs they've probably never even heard of. It is why the Premier League generates billions in revenue every season and we're happy for that to continue so long as the best players arrive each summer.
The opposite to the Premier League
In comparison the FA Cup is still an English competition and the majority of football fans don't want to see overpaid Manchester United players stumbling around in a formation that changes every 20 minutes for the umpteenth time this season; they want to see proof that the elusive magic is still around, without having to wait until almost midnight to watch the highlights. That means the cameras turning up to a football ground resembling a mud bath, where the football isn't so slick and 20,000 Bradford fans sing louder than 75,000 United fans – who would rather be somewhere else, it would seem – ever could.
A BBC spokesperson justified their decision by saying: "TV match selections have to be decided before the outcome of replays and for that reason, we have selected what we believe to be the best fixtures, given all the potential scenarios.
"Providing Bradford City's game is played on Saturday afternoon, we will present Football Focus from Valley Parade to showcase the club's preparations and provide extended highlights on Match of the Day."
The unlikely cup run is one of English football's most endearing sights. This season has seen more Premier League clubs fall by the fifth round stage (ten) since 2006 when there were 11 casualties.
Fairytales are in abundance but the coverage is at an all-time minimum. What more could Bradford do other than knockout the Premier League leaders on a ground where they have won 16 out of 18 games this season, managed by someone who simply doesn't lose home games?
Gary Lineker, the face of BBC Football, tweeted: "A sparkling weekend of FA Cup football. The old lady is in good order. Looking forward to getting hold of the balls tomorrow."
What a hypocrite he must have felt when the BBC announced which games would be televised in the next round. The terrestrial channel is supposed to be keeping the FA Cup alive, but is continuing to drive it into the ground by refusing to highlight the novel underdogs that keep fans interested. It just drives more resources to Premier League clubs; resources the football pyramid so desperately need.
If poetic justice is to be served, Cambridge United will face Preston North End in that now infamous Monday night game. The BBC could spin it, waxing lyrical about how 'this is what the competition is all about', casually ignoring their ambition to host Manchester United's 45th consecutive televised FA Cup game.
There is little chance anyone will remember Manchester United's fourth round replay or their likely fifth round tie against Preston or Sheffield. Thanks to BT Sport's and the BBC's decision, Bradford's famous cup run won't live long in the memory either; neither too will the world's oldest cup competition.
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