the real fa cup

The Wembley Way?

We’ve been following the early rounds of the FA Cup for 4 years now and in that time we’ve been irked by the sponsors on a number of occasions. Boring, we know.  The previous incumbents (Eon) were largely inoffensive, even if they did absolutely nought before the 1st round.  Budweiser, on the other hand seem to be actually doing stuff that would be discarded by even the most drunken, Fussball-induced brainstorms in the wackiest social media agency in Acid Land.  As a result, they are unpredictable and dangerous.

For a bit of balance, let’s first praise the pop peddlers.  Against all the odds, the first spoonful of marketing spermatazoa out of their jaffa-rated corporate gonads actually turned out to be an unqualified, octuplet-inducing success.

Provide live coverage of a game in the opening round (Extra Preliminary Round) of the FA Cup.  Big tick for that idea, guaranteed to grease the palms of the cynical end of football’s supporter base.  Implementing that idea was always going to be tricky.  Major broadcasters wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole because they had no benchmark for audience figures or money making and, in such straightened times, the risk simply wasn’t worth countenance.  This left either established niche sport providers like Trans World and Eurosport or perhaps an online player, like non-league flag-waver Premier Sports.  Eschewing the tried, Bud went for a ground-breaking live stream via their UK Facebook page.  Around 30,000 people watched, which was more than Premier Sports manage to get for many Conference games.

Despite this early win, Bud didn’t follow it up so we don’t know how much was novelty.  They claim they will do it more this season but they did more than hint they would do so last season and, not only did they fail to, they appeared to lose interest until the fourth qualifying round – something we have written about before.  So, Bud let their goodwill go to waste and it slipped into the annals of history as a massive LOOK AT US WORKING GRASS ROOTS firework display.  And then they went and got Terry Venables involved at Wembley FC and we all sighed.

Will This Work?
Now they’ve gone a step further.  The current scheme ‘sponsoring’ Wembley FC has been extended to include digging up some 45 year old footballers to play for Wembley in the FA Cup (at least that appears to be the plan) and a [BIG TV TIE-IN KLAXON] reality TV program on ESPN that appears will follow Wembley on their FA Cup assumption.

There are a couple of things to ponder here.  The plan seems to be that Wembley run as normal from week to week with Ian Bates in charge and selecting his best players, while El Tel and his harem of cronies (Keown, Le Saux, Parlour, McBride and … wait for it … Claudio Caniggia!) pop down to point and gesticulate when the TV cameras turn up.  Then, when the FA Cup game comes around, El Tel comes to the forefront and the old pros come into the team.

Ian Bates seems to be oblivious (TM Chris Nee) to the fact that he’ll be a non-story in the FA Cup games, either that or he is quite happy to be marginalised in this publicity stunt, which seems odd when you consider how long he’s been at Wembley.  Also, there will be as many as five regular players who will be dropped for (or subbed in) FA Cup games for the very simple reason that they didn’t play in a top flight during the 1980s and get pulled from the Cup to make way for those faded stars.  We’ve seen non league players voicing these concerns already.

And what if Wembley’s cup run lasts one game?  With the premise of the reality show gone in 90 minutes, what happens next?  Does El Tel become more hands on for league games?  Do the yesterstars start playing in league games, they will surely have to get some pitch time in anyway?  Even if Wembley do get through a few rounds, how exactly does this circus help the regular first team on the pitch?

In the PR for the stunt Bates says it’s an opportunity to learn from former pros, which is a fair point. But given that most non league sides only train once or twice a week, we do wonder how a few hours coaching a month from a man who doesn’t speak English is going to help – and as well as El Tel there is Caniggia to think about!  Boom.  We asked Ian Bates on twitter exactly how this was supposed to help the team on the pitch, he hasn’t responded yet but will update here if he does.

Once the initial excitement of proximity to former pros has worn off and the issue of being dropped for Martin Keown raises it’s simeon head, it’s easy to see how the coaching positives might be outweighed by the negatives of team morale and the potential contempt for the manager, Venables and Budweiser themselves.

You could easily see this as a demeaning ‘opportunity’ for Wembley but possibly also quite sad because Bud have, no doubt, thrown at Wembley enough money to ensure their survival for at least a short time.  Given the precarious nature of many non league football clubs, it must have been very difficult to turn down.  Very difficult.  And that is an invidious position in which to be.  The offer itself is divisive.  To offer a club a sufficiently large (but tiny to Bud) amount of money so that they have almost no alternative but to whore themselves out, is a little dirty, in the Aguilera sense.

OK, for sure, some people will lap up the hilarity and novelty of seeing a not-quite World Cup winner at Vale Farm and it will undoubtedly pull a few fans through the gate on FA Cup day.  But will it create the ‘unique memories that players and communities will never forget’ that Bud claim?  In singular terms, big players have signed for non-league clubs before but never in such large numbers or for such specific a job.  There’s a litany of such singular instances, many are remembered but few with anything approaching a positive bent.

Some people will read this as miserablism and accuse us of being up ourselves and dreaming of a football world that has long since passed.  Get with the PR program, grandad!  Fair enough also.  BUT … What exactly do Budweiser think they are going to get out of this that couldn’t be done in a more humane way?  They could chuck carrots around a lot more clubs more constructively, more proactively and more beneficially to grassroots football in general.  They don’t have to be a crass multi-national trampling over the oldest cup tournament in the World for some perceived cultural capital.

How Could Bud Do Better?
At the televised game last season Bud effectively sent a roadshow out to Ascot United (v Wembley, for those interested) that boosted the gate significantly, it was professional without being entirely obtrusive and engaged the community, exactly what should be done to ensure the longevity of local clubs.  An idea such as that could be on tour and patrolling the country through every qualifying round and spread the goodwill around the regions, rather than just one club.  This might also have had a greater and more deep-rooted impact on their brand rather than opting for the overt, short-term PR hit of a reality TV show on an international broadcasting platform.

Which brings us to longevity. How long are Bud in for this experiment with Wembley? One season we suspect, using ‘season’ in TV terms of course.  It certainly won’t be more than two because Bud’s deal with the FA is up then.

But, good luck to Wembley, we think they’re going to need it.  We can only hope that football fans avoid the TV show and register their disapproval with the FA.  If people tune in to gawp, if only to witness and deride, this multi-national will get the impression we want this and we are more than happy for them to subjugate a 150 year old idea.

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