Slowly destroying football crowds

The FA Cup third round is one of the most exciting and highly-anticipated weekends on the football calendar. It is when the competition really comes to life and the road to Wembley begins. All the Premier League and Championship sides join in at this stage and the draw always throws up some big matches and potential banana skins.

Football fans always love an underdog and this is when you are certain to find one. This year’s competition created some great games, non-league Tamworth went to Everton and Swindon Town entertained Wigan Athletic, Birmingham City played Wolves and there was also the small matter of a Manchester derby between the two best sides in the country.

These games should more than whet the appetite for neutrals and supporters but it didn’t appear so. The West Midlands derby kicked off the round but the St Andrew’s attendance was only 14,500, Peterborough’s game against Sunderland on Sunday afternoon only brought in 8,900 fans, less than their average league attendance, and most surprisingly, there were big empty spaces at the Etihad Stadium yesterday.

It is a major disappointment to see low attendances for such a traditional footballing weekend and the reason for this problem is TV. Since the beautiful game has been broadcast on the box we have all gathered round and watched the big games. For previous generations the FA Cup final was a monumental family occasion with everybody gathering around to watch the match. In recent years the amount of football that is broadcast into our living rooms has rocketed and now there are multiple games every weekend for our enjoyment. We can watch the Premier League, Football League, European football, cup football, international matches and pretty much any other football we want. For the avid supporter it is fantastic because they can watch any game they want from the comfort of their own home on a TV that they have already paid for.

The only problem is that it is killing the game.

Attendances have been falling for a while and for Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers their stadiums seem half empty at most home games. That may be down to their league position but it is the same for so many clubs now. Everton’s average crowd so far this season is 2,500 less than it was last campaign as are Aston Villa and Wolves. In the Championship, Nottingham Forest and Leicester City are suffering a similar drop along with promotion chasing Cardiff City and more.

With Sky, ESPN and other networks showing us so many games attendances are slipping because a lot of people don’t see why they should buy a ticket to watch a match they can see at home. And it is a fair point but without ticket revenue clubs don’t have the money to continue the way they are.

Clubs rely on fans coming to the games, buying a programme, having something to eat and drink and visiting the club shop. If they aren’t filling the ground to capacity every other week then the fans that do attend will have to start paying more for their ticket so eventually they won’t go either and with no money coming into the club from the supporters it will only spell out trouble for the team.

But it isn’t just attendances that are slipping thanks to the TV revolution, they have upset other facets of the game with equal measure. Thanks to the billions spent on TV rights by the BBC, Sky, ESPN and ITV, it has turned football into a business. While that is not to say that people involved in the game are only interested in money, it now controls so many things.

With all the money involved in the game it is always likely to attract money-grabbers. We all know the names of so-called super agents like Pini Zahavi who make their money by being an advisor in transfer negotiations and the despised ‘advisor’ Kia Joorabchian is a businessman who bought the rights to certain players so that he could make his money from football.

It is this same desire to make money that has also created corruption in football. Bungs and bribery are despicable acts that have tarnished the game in recent years and it is highly unlikely that this would have happened if their wasn’t the potential to make so much money.

Bank balances have swelled dramatically since the formation of the Premier League and that has meant that transfer fees and wages have too. When the league was formed in 1992, nobody would have expected to see £50 million transfer fees and wages in excess of £200,000 a week. Football has always been a working-class sport where the players would often be seen drinking in the same pubs as the fans and while they were still paid more than the average wage, it wasn’t the chasm that it is now. In the 1984-85 season, First Division players earned an average of £480 a week compared to the average 3192 earned by the ‘man-on-the-street’. But by the 2009-10 campaign, the average Premier League player took home an eye-watering £22,353 a week, virtually an average annual wage.

These astronomical sums of money have put the players out of touch with the supporters and it has led to the anger that the players receive when they do stupid things off the pitch or when they put in less than expected amounts of effort on the pitch.

We have also seen an influx of foreign talent come to England over the past 20 years. This is because every country in the world can watch the Premier League, you can compete in the best competitions in the world and there is a big pay day on offer by coming here. It has meant that some of the best players on the planet have graced our game and brought joy to us all with their ability. It has set us apart from so many leagues because of our diversity but it is hard to ignore that it has stifled so many young English players in that time. Because the clubs have the transfer budget to buy already established players from other clubs they have prevented the progression of their academy players and it has let them fall by the wayside when a chance in the team could have produced a hot prospect for the future.

Having football on the TV has brought so many good things to football and it has made the Premier League one of the most watched sporting competitions in the world but I can’t help in thinking it has created a problem that may not be easy to solve.

What affect do you think TV has had on football? Comment below or tell me on Twitter @jrobbins1991.

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