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The FA Cup has been declining in prestige for a couple of decades now, for reasons that aren’t very difficult to understand. The institution of the UEFA Champions League made it a tertiary priority for the big four clubs who came to dominate English football.
Even for smaller clubs in the Premier League, the growing riches of league play made the rewards to be had in the FA Cup much less important financially than whether the club finished in seventh place or seventeenth in the league, due to the much greater prize money at stake there.
The FA Cup winner takes home £3.4 million; a minimum of £30 million is taken home for just staying in the Premier League.
This disparity in rewards did not exist until recent times. No wonder so many teams field weakened teams.
For fans, playing semi-finals at Wembley as well as the final has taken some of the lustre off the pot at the end of the tunnel, the greed of the FA making a Wembley appearance more commonplace.
Unpredictability and upsets remain, as we’ve seen this year in spades, but the media spotlight on the tournament has diminished with so much focus on European competition and the Premier League title race.
And you know it’s bad when the Football Association actually determines they need to do something about it, or it least get a committee to talk about doing something.
Unfortunately, according to the Times, they have a batty solution to reigniting interest: instead of finding a way to build off of the tradition of the world’s oldest football tournament, they instead want to bring in some gimmicks by reportedly making it a testing ground for experiments in the rules and regulations of the game:
The dilemma for the FA and its ten-man Challenge Cup Committee, which is chaired by Sir Dave Richards, the Premier League chairman, is what kind of changes to make to the competition. The FA’s hierarchy is conscious that much of the Cup’s appeal lies in its tradition, which is why there is resistance to the idea of seeding the draw, but there is a growing feeling that something needs to change. [..]
Perhaps the most intriguing idea, though, is that the FA Cup could attract greater interest by volunteering itself to be used as a stage for future experiments with the laws of the game.
Fifa, world football’s governing body, is likely to give a trial to various innovations over the coming years — having confirmed yesterday that goalline technology will be back on the agenda when the International Football Association Board meets next month — and there is a school of thought within the FA that, as a pioneering competition, it could benefit from staging such experiments in future.
It’s all very well for the FA Cup to be a pioneer and a testing ground for change. But it sure as hell isn’t going to save the grand old competition. Did a lot more people suddenly start watching the UEFA Europa League because it was featuring an experiment with additional assistant referees on the goalline? No.
The solutions are actually likely prosaic changes like more prize money, smarter scheduling and marketing the class and history of the FA Cup. Whether the FA can manage to do any of that remains to be seen.