The TV match selections for the 5th round of the FA Cup caused a bit of a reaction yesterday, so I wanted to use this post to explain in a bit more detail how the selection process works. You still might not agree with our picks, particularly if you're from Bradford, but hopefully you'll see there's a bit of logic to what we try to do.
As Gary Lineker mentioned yesterday, the hardest thing is that both the BBC and BT have to make our selections before the outcome of replays. That's the only reason why Phil Parkinson's side didn't get a live match this time round. We had to weigh up the options and given Sunderland's recent form, thought it was a realistic possibility of the match being League One against a Championship side. In this case it wouldn't have been much of a shock whatever the result and the winners would be guaranteed a live Quarter-Final, as Reading have done by progressing at Derby.
If Bradford definitely had a home tie against Premier League opposition we certainly would have chosen to have the match live on BBC One. That has been a big part of our policy so far, showing AFC Wimbledon, Cambridge, Bristol City and tonight Preston, all looking to overcome opposition from the top flight.
As the game unfolded yesterday at Valley Parade, we shared the frustration of fans and would have loved to have been broadcasting the match live. It's everything the FA Cup and our new comprehensive coverage is about. We are speaking to the FA about whether we can change this in the future, but understand it's tricky for them. Clubs understandably want to get plans for ticketing, policing and fans in place without waiting for 10 days for TV companies to confirm their selections. But we hope there's a middle ground where we can get a little more flexibility to ensure we have as much chance as possible of capturing cup classics like yesterday.
Of course a lot of things are easy in hindsight. We have been really pleased with most of our picks so far and really fortunate to get some proper cup shocks. Warrington from the eighth tier overcoming Exeter City, Blyth Spartans winning in dramatic fashion at Hartlepool, AFC Wimbledon running Liverpool close and Cambridge holding Manchester United under the Abbey Stadium lights. It's also great to see the difference the TV money can make to these clubs, as well as placing them in the national spotlight with over 7 million viewers tuning in.
Our audience research also suggests that fans want to enjoy a mix of these David vs. Goliath matches and games involving Premier League sides. For those who can't afford subscription to sports channels, it's been great to be able to see live international stars like Alexis Sanchez, Angel Di Maria, Steven Gerrard, Ron Vlaar and Alex Song, all as part of the licence fee. While the Aston Villa vs. Leicester game wasn't everyone's cup of tea, it was a hotly contested Midlands derby with both clubs picking full strength sides and produced a cracking second half watched by over 4 million.
Of course, we would have loved to have been live at Chelsea in the 4th round and Bradford in the 5th, but the good news for fans is that even when a game isn't shown live there's always comprehensive Match of the Day highlights available. There’s a lot more extra coverage devoted to the FA Cup on the BBC, with lots of additional content and different ways to enjoy it. After the 4th round, 26 million people had watched the coverage on the BBC, that's 8 million more than on terrestrial TV this time last season. It's not all about viewing figures and ratings, but it's pleasing to be able to bring coverage of the world's most loved cup competition to such a wide audience.
Despite some of the criticism coming out of Bradford, a lot of thought goes into the matches we pick, and I hope the selections outlined above show we are particularly keen to showcase clubs outside the Premier League. I'm a Bristol Rovers fan myself so know all too well what the cup can mean to those outside the elite.
When we sit down tomorrow morning to pick our two matches for the Quarter-Final we will take all I've discussed into consideration, but the good news is that all four matches will be live on TV. That means Bradford's incredible heroics over the last five rounds have guaranteed them a money-spinning Quarter-Final game and boy do Bantams fans deserve it!
Mark Cole is Lead Executive, Football