Issue #61 What the club should tell the BBC to do with their television money

As told by Michael Wood

The fourth round of the FA Cup – for Bradford City – was all about how fans were not going to be able to watch the game in person. The fifth round seems to be able how fans will not be able to watch it at home after both the BBC and BT Sport acquiesced on the chance to show the Bantams tie with Funderland (or Sulham, if you prefer).

Of the eight ties five will be shown on television and one of those games will not be Bradford City’s which – as a result – means that Bradford City will not be paid the not inconsiderable sum of £250,000.

This has caused consternation with supporters furious and the club even going so far as to announce the lack of news on the website. In keeping with the vast majority of the games that Bradford City play the Funderland tie will not be televised. Nor will Colchester United on Saturday although this is not mentioned

The idea of television companies paying football clubs to show matches was a compensation for the number of supporters who would stay away. It does not take a flying pass in further maths to see that the £250,000 figure represents far more than the difference between a 12,000 and a 22,000 full Valley Parade. The television money is equated to prize money and all are upset that City’s win over Chelsea has not deemed them worth selecting for that prize.

Mark Lawn, who can always be relied upon to resurface when a television camera is present, led the complaints saying the BBC “they don’t understand a thing about football” and added that the television companies had “let themselves down”.

Lawn makes the point that City’s win over Chelsea last week created a ten year spike in Match of the Day audiences but the BBC probably do know a thing or two about football and television and they know that people did not tune in to watch Bradford City win but rather to see Chelsea lose. That that loss came to City is – for them – immaterial.

Which is not to say that Lawn and many, many others who believe that Bradford City vs Fulham – let alone Bradford City vs Sunderland – represents a better two hours of television that West Brom vs West Ham are wrong but rather contemplate for a moment concepts of loss aversion.

One could be excused for thinking that TV executives had crept into Valley Parade and lifted a quarter of a million pounds from the safe rather than not wind-falling the sum to Bradford City. Forsaken gains are important in the world of potential that is League One football in a way they are not in the rest of life.

Football clubs regularly accept risk and risk that leads to loss, and seem to act like potential gains are guaranteed. One only need look at how Bradford City approach the sell on clauses of Fabian Delph and Tom Cleverley to see that.

There is an uncomfortableness to the club’s stance on not having gained from a television match, and the club comes off like a petulant child not getting what want but think they deserve. A full Valley Parade (#bethedifference, again) and a football performance should be the club’s focus and tantrums about not being on television are unseemly.

Not only unseemly but a missed opportunity of
sorts. When sixteen teams are left in the FA Cup – all in the same position on merit – it is by definition unfair for one to be gifted £250,000 by virtue of a random draw and one not to be.

Had Funderland come out at Manchester United/Cambridge United then would Bradford City deserve to be given £250,000 more than the winners of Preston North End/Sheffield United? Are we comfortable with the idea that the BBC/BT Sports are the arbitrators of that decision? At the moment the Market has decided that Bradford City will not be on television. Reward for beating Chelsea is not something the market is interested in.

After all the ties are created at random from a group of teams who – the FA would argue – have an equal right to be there. Assuming that £250,000 is a sum of money which makes a difference to a League One club then it is obscene that it is distributed in such a random manner?

After all fifteen teams cannot create a fifth round of the FA Cup. Fourteen cannot. Each club is as as important as the others in this round if only to give a breadth to the choices for television viewers.

If television has £1m to put into television five of eight ties of sixteen teams then split £1m down sixteen ways and allow all the teams – who have all equally earned it – to take a slice. Television has far too much influence over football for my taste. I’d rather it were minimised, and that steps were taken to minimise it, rather than see my club grabbing greedily for it.

If your view, dear reader, is that Bradford City should be on television against Funderland because it represents an attractive tie then you have my agreement but I disagree fundamentally with the system that allows television companies to give an ad hoc reward one team over another for the same achievement of getting to the fifth round.

When the club had the national spotlight – and a co-chairman who is vocal – I’d prefer that point be made.