I watched last Sunday’s FA Cup victory over Manchester United in a Carmarthen pub as I don’t have BT at home. At 430 on a Sunday afternoon the 20 or drinkers were clearly only there for the football and the place emptied soon after the final whistle. We went home as well – thrilled of course with the result.
It’s by no means the first time our FA Cup matches have been televised of course and last season’s Arsenal games are proof of that. However Sunday triggered memories of a previous FA Cup game which had been shown live on the telly a long time ago. Back in November 1997 our FA Cup first round game against Peterborough United was deemed worthy of being televised. Why I’ve no idea, but I’m pretty sure the game was on Sky and that it was brought forward to the Friday night. Despite horrible weather and a paltry crowd I remember there being quite a buzz in the North Bank before kick off with excitement and pride that that we were being beamed live to the nation. A 4-1 defeat soon put paid to that however and I believe that defeat meant we were the first league team to be knocked out of the Cup that season! I’m pretty sure it was some time before we were on national television again.
The contrast between our television coverage now and 1997 could not be greater. I checked the recent Manchester City match programme when I got home and Sunday’s game was the 19th Swansea match to be shown live so far this season. Think about that for a moment – 19 live games and there are already another five, Man United; Spurs; Cardiff and Napoli (home and away) scheduled between now and the end of February.
Of course this season is extreme in that we have already had 10 Europa League games shown live on ITV4 or S4C. However even excluding these European matches it’s likely that we will be televised around 20 times this season. So is this a good or a bad thing? It is good of course for the television money itself and the increased sponsorship opportunities it creates through the exposure it gives the club both in this country and across the world. It is also good that supporters who (either because of geography; finance, health or ticket unavailability) are unable to attend matches get to regularly watch our games.
I guess it only becomes a bad thing when it affects the numbers actually attending matches. Some games will be automatic sell outs regardless of whether it’s on television or what time and date it kicks off. The obvious examples are the games we’ve played against Liverpool, Arsenal, Man United and Everton. And I’m sure that Spurs and Cardiff will be sell outs as well. The same can’t be said of Hull however and moving it to a Monday night meant that there were quite a few empty seats around. I have no doubt that live television has also detrimentally affected the Europa League game attendances as well.
Having attended the first two qualifying matches I will admit now that I’m one of the season ticket holders who chose not to attend the group matches. My reasons include finance (or lack of) and not finishing work in Haverfordwest before 5pm. But even though I can justify it to myself I still feel guilty settling for the armchair instead. When the FA Cup draw was made I was determined for us to go as it seemed the best chance of the family watching the Swans at Old Trafford we could have. We went to Anfield for the League Cup game last season. When the United tie was switched to late Sunday afternoon however the armchair (albeit one in a pub) was the clear winner. Am I in danger of turning into one of those fans who will pick and choose my games? It would never have occurred to me in 1997 to miss the Peterborough match because it was a live game.
Football is all about habit as far as I can tell. Once you break that habit a couple of times it becomes easier and easier to do it again. And therein lies the danger of more and more people in Swansea and West Wales becoming distant fans passively watching from pubs or front rooms. It’s very likely that such a fan will be able to watch nearly 30 games this season without leaving his/her armchair. If I’d predicted that to someone on the North Bank that night in 1997 I think you can guess the sort of reaction I would have got!
The present level of television coverage of our club is unbelievable really and I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or not.