Unprofessional Foul


January 9, 2012

One Last Spin Through the FJMinator

I Bet There Would Be More Fans Here if We Were Playing In Tanzania

We’ve probably acknowledged it before, but our occasional rip-off of the deceased Fire Joe Morgan is nothing but flattery.

What FJM did was borderline genius. With a only Mickey Mouse blogger template, some horrifically bad sportswriting, and their collective incisive wit they helped give legitimacy to bloggers—these were really smart, successful Hollywood writers, not clichéd basement-dwelling troglodytes—while simultaneously taking down the establishment that was nervously looking down its collective nose at the indie upstarts.

And we steal their schtick. Mostly because it’s fun and because there is more shitty sportswriting than ever before. Today we take aim at a post from EPL Talk that went up over the weekend. We’re not even going to bother to link to it. You can go dig it up if you want. The only comment necessary is to note that our response was written before the City v. United FA Cup match was played. So the tenses might seem weird. Just adjust your internal calendar accordingly. Original copy in italics. Our responses follow in plain text.

This morning I was listening to BBC Five Live commentator Alan Green complaining about poor attendances in this weekend’s FA Cup matches. The two examples he gave were the crowd of less than 15,000 for a west Midlands derby between Birmingham City and Wolves, and the fact that tickets were still available yesterday for Sunday’s Manchester derby, although it is now sold out.

Yes, that sold out match to be played tomorrow is certain to be plagued by poor attendance.

The last time Birmingham played Wolves at St. Andrews was in the Premier League, last May. The crowd that day? More than 26,000.

Those are two isolated examples, but when watching FA Cup matches on television this weekend, it’s a safe bet to say that you’ll see more empty seats than a typical Premier League weekend. 

A) Let’s put this in its skeletal form: It’s a safe bet to say that fewer people will be at the less popular competition.

That is astounding insight.

Sure, some ties do feature two EPL (suck it Barclays) sides but they don’t mean a thing when it comes to the league table. So, shockingly, there just might be less interest in those matches. Even the one of the two isolated examples you picked out that isn’t sold out isn’t between two Premier League sides (sorry, that’s an awful sentence). Birmingham got relegated at the end of last season. They are currently 14th in the Championship. Wolves are currently 16th in the Prem.

Just for fun, though, let’s look at how Birmingham has been drawing this season. Here are the attendance figures for the last four Birmingham home matches in the Championship:

Blackpool: 19,995

West Ham: 20,214

Doncaster Rovers: 17,369

Burnley: 16,253

Three of those four teams were actually Premier League teams within the past two seasons, so you might expect them to be slightly larger draws. Maybe not for Burnley. Still, the final announced attendance of 14,594 for the third round FA Cup match between the 14th place team in the Championship and the 16th place team in the Prem isn’t ridiculously low for a team that is averaging 18,682 fans a game (what Birmingham is averaging).

In fact it’s about 2.5 standard deviations (1602 is the standard deviation for the data set of all home Birmingham matches) from the mean. That means it’s about a 1 in 80-to-100 event. Certainly it’s not the most likely of things from a purely mathematical standpoint, but it’s also not outlandishly improbable. In a normally distributed set of data, you’d expect it to happen once every three or four seasons (that for a Championship team that plays 23 home league fixture and maybe a handful of cup games) One consideration here is that it’s a pretty small sample size—11 observations—but at around 13 or 14 observations, error terms actually start to get pretty small, so it’s not terrible.

But Birmingham v. Wolves is a West Midlands derby! It should draw more than 15,000 fans!

Says who? Blackpool’s visit to Birmingham last season drew a bigger crowd than Wolverhampton’s (26,850 to 26,072). The latter probably care way more about the Black County derby anyway.

B) Let’s still use that game last May between Wolves and Brum. While there was no explicit claim that it was well attended, it was put forth to show the massive drop off in interest for FA Cup matches relative to EPL fixtures. The final attendance figure for that match was 26,072.Capacity at St. Andrews is listed as 30,009. That means that match was at 86.9% capacity.

Now, here are two more “isolated examples” from this FA Cup weekend.

—Fleetwood Town v. Blackpool at Highbury Stadium, Fleetwood. Attendance: 5092. Capacity: 5500. That’s 92.6% of capacity.

—Macclesfield v. Bolton at Moss Rose Stadium. Attendance: 5757. Capacity: 6355. That’s 90.6% of capacity.

So using these two “isolated examples”… Holy shit, interest in the FA Cup is off the fucking charts! Stadia are at 90% or better of capacity. That fucking blows away the 86.9% baseline standard for an EPL match we’re comparing against. Well this certainly disproves any infantile notion that interest in the early rounds of this tournament is waning. In fact the EPL is fucked. It can’t even outdraw the third round of the no-longer-magical FA Cup.

Oh and if you think we cheated by picking a small ground that hosted a Prem team (Macclesfield v SF Bolton), then how about this: Tottenham Hotspur v. Cheltenham at White Hart Lane. Attendance: 35,672. Capacity: 36,230. That’s 98.5% of fucking capacity. For a fucking League Two team! The FA Cup is obviously an attendance monster and it will devour everything in its sight.

Okay, well done, Spurs. Seriously, I despise your club, but that is an excellent turn out for a shite tie. I’d doff my cap to you if I wore won, or if I knew what doffing actually entailed.

Look, I’d be lying if I said that there were more matches over that 86.9% quasi-arbitrary threshold we’re using. In fact most matches were well below it (and I did the math on every Saturday match where attendance figures were posted). Sure interest in the earlier rounds of the FA Cup might not be what it used to be—I haven’t looked at the historical attendance numbers so I’m not going to commit to that notion—but that’s not the point.

The point here is that it is monumentally stupid to pick two data points and make an argument based on those two data points. Especially when the suggestion you’re going to make rests on the argument that interest via a vis falling attendance is lagging, and one of your data points is a match that is fucking sold out.

And this is the magical third round of the FA Cup. One of the highlights of the English football season.

Oooh. If it’s magical, then perhaps a magician could have performed an illusion and made St. Andrews seem twice as full as it actually was. That might have actually spurred more real ticket sales.

Alan Green’s comment about the apathy among football supporters got me thinking. 

Careful, you might hurt yourself there. Okay that was mean and uncalled for, but I’m not a nice person. Instead of thinking maybe you could have dug up some numbers and done some math and spared us this ridiculous exercise.

If the majority of football supporters in Great Britain either can’t afford or can’t be bothered to show up to watch one of the crown jewels of English football, why not give those of us who do care the opportunity to watch some of these games in person? 

First, and this is admittedly nitpicky but Great Britain is England, Scotland and Wales. Scotland has its own league and domestic cup competition. So let’s leave them out of this.

Second, I just checked Orbitz. There are numerous airlines flying daily to destinations all over Great Britain. So if you want the opportunity to watch an FA Cup  (or even Scottish Cup) match in person, planes are boarding all the time. Unless you’re a felon and can’t get a passport. In which case, I take it all back.

No, I don’t.

While Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has ruled out the 39th game, the concept of playing some professional competitive matches overseas is something that the Football Association should consider.

Why not play Manchester City against Manchester United in New York? It would be a guaranteed sold-out crowd. And it’s just a seven hour hop across the pond.

“Don’t worry Socrates, it’s just a small goblet of Hemlock.”

If not the Manchester derby, the FA could pick one or two selected ties from the third, fourth and fifth rounds of the FA Cup and play them overseas to add more excitement to the tournament. 

Do you even pay attention to what you wrote all of about 10 sentences ago? So, people in Birmingham can’t be bothered to attend an FA Cup match, relative to the attendance for the same match-up when it was a Premier League fixture the previous season. The solution then is to send that match overseas? What?

You know where people care even less about Birmingham v. Wolves in the FA Cup than in Birmingham? In New York.

Or Dayton, Ohio. Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. Probably in Iquitos, Perú. Not to mention Dar Es Salaam. This is a bit of conjecture on my behalf. For all I know, there is a huge pack of Wolves fans in Tanzania. But I doubt it. There are only a few clubs in the EPL that have global fan bases. So you want to only send those teams overseas?

Awesome. “Hey Arsenal, this is the FA. Yeah we know we had you play Wolves on Saturday, then turn around and play Fulham 48 hours later. Well, now we need you to get on a plane—it’s just a nineteen hour hop—and go to Tokyo to play against Leeds.”

The clubs with global appeal necessary to draw your guaranteed sell out are the teams at the top: United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea; and soon to join them is Citeh. So let’s take the sides that have 38 league fixtures, at least 6 Champions League group matches and usually a couple more for the knock-out stages, another four-to-seven ties for cup runs in the FA and Carling Cups, and let’s add some international travel to their schedule. Brilliant. Abso-fucking-lutely brilliant idea.

Never mind that there are draws after every round, so you can’t even guarantee a match-up if you’re the FA trying to peddle this to some stadium authority in NYC.

“Yes, New York? This is the English FA. We’d like to stage a match in your city. We guarantee it will be a sell out… Well, we can’t tell you who is going to be in it until after the draw… We’d like to think that either United, Chelsea or Liverpool would play someone, but it is possible that all three of them lose before the round we’re hoping to stage… Hello… Huh, I seem to have lost the connection.”

But most of all, it would add a massive shot in the arm to a cup competition that most Brits are nonchalant about.

I actually might agree with that if I knew exactly what was being shot into the metaphorical arm of the FA Cup. If it’s drainpipe cleaner, then yes, it would be a massive shot.

No matter what happens in the FA Cup between today and Monday, you can be assured of two things. One, a few of the British newspapers will write about how the magic of the FA Cup is gone. Two, one or two of the panel on The Guardian’s Monday edition of the Football Weekly podcast will moan about how uninterested they are in the cup competition.

How can we be assured of that? Can you control the thoughts and words of journalists in England? That’s wicked cool if you can. I bet you could find all kind of ways to make piles of cash off that. Why are you blogging?

Okay, maybe—even extremely likely—someone in England or Wales will write about the dearth of magic in the FA Cup and how attendance is (probably) down. So to predict this isn’t much of a reach, but that’s mostly because there are still lazy hacks everywhere. And it’s easy to be lazy. For instance, taking two examples given by a Five Live commenter and, instead of putting them up to a bit of scrutiny, using them as the basis for an argument even when they mightn’t really support that argument is lazy.

As for the Football Weekly pod on Monday, Richards et al are pretty good at what they do. And they probably realize that the “There is no more magic in the FA Cup” argument is tediously old. Good journalists try to find new things to talk about. Or they might actually just stick to talking about the games, and completely ignore magic or the lack thereof. But, like I said, if you can control what people in England say you should totally take advantage of that in ways that are cooler and more lucrative than puppeteering the contents of a football podcast. Just saying.

The level of interest among most English football supporters about the FA Cup and Carling Cup continues to decline year after year. 

I wish I weren’t tired and annoyed from digging up data for the calculations I did earlier. If not, I might actually take the rest of my day to get the 2010-11 attendance numbers. My guess is that they are down, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see average attendance numbers for the third round of the FA Cup year over year actually be up this year. Wouldn’t bet on it, but even if the trend is declining, there can still be the odd upward blip on the ride down. But this is shit someone can go look up instead of just buying in to some sort of accepted notion floating around out there.

Meanwhile, soccer fans around the world would be far more excited and interested to see a match in-person from one of the world’s most famous cup competitions. 

Again, flights leaving daily.

Some Brits may argue that it may tarnish the history of the tournament by playing some of the games overseas, but I’d argue that the rise of the Premier League, the priority that is placed on Champions League qualification, plus the indifference most supporters of Premier League clubs gives to the FA Cup has already tarnished the tournament. And that indifference seems to get worse as each year passes.

Some may argue that cats pee Gatorade and that there is a code in the un-shot scripts from the short-lived Matt LeBlanc vehicle “Joey” that can lead you to the location of the treasure of the Flor de la Mar.

Champions League qualification is a priority (at least for the teams with a realistic shot at qualifying), so let’s take the teams most likely to qualify and fuck their chances—and it’s not unreasonable to think that international travel would impact a team’s subsequent (league) match or even matches—a little bit more by making them play a match in New York right after the already crowded holiday fixture calendar.

And let’s have the FA determine whose chances exactly are going to get fucked. Because it would be totally fair to send, say, Chelsea overseas to play its FA Cup match in Xian, while letting, say, Tottenham play in North London.

The suggestion to move games overseas could very well have the exact opposite effect. It might absolutely kill the FA Cup. If Alex Ferguson thought there was chance he’d be playing FA Cup games overseas and his noisy neighbors wouldn’t, thereby potentially screwing his chances of just qualifying for the Champions League, then he would try to get out of that competition as soon as possible. United’s first FA Cup match would feature six-year-olds in midfield, corpses at striker, and an amputee war veteran in goal. Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and City would do similarly. West Ham would be the biggest English power left by the fourth round of the FA Cup. And try selling fucking West Ham v. Accrington Stanley to the rest of the world year after year.

Nothing personal, Hammers. Just happened to be the team that popped into our heads.

If the Brits don’t care, be rest assured that we foreigners do.

Really? They could have staged Brighton & Hove Albion v. Wrexham in the park at the end of my block and I’m not sure I could have been bothered to attend. Then again, I was hungover this morning; so just getting breakfast was a monumental effort and I need stuff like food to survive.

There is a postscript to this particular FJM’ination. And before adding it, we note that we would have taken apart this post regardless of what has happened in the past. But this seems like as good a time as any to share this.

Anyway, we (the Royal ‘we’) own epltalksucks.com. We actually own lots of odd URLs (e.g. schmacebook.com, facebookschmacebook.com, and youreagiantfuckingdouche.com) and have done absolutely nothing with most of them besides pay the annual registration fee.

At some point we discussed an EPL Talk parody site, because we’ve never been fans of homemade videos made by people opening schwag, but being lazy we might have just used it for staging when we were doing our last redesign. Any posts that may or may not have gone up there were a) temporary and b) garbage. Either they were pilfered from the UF site, or they were greeking, meant to fill space so we could QA the template.

Anyway, shortly after we possibly used epltalksucks as a staging URL (March 27, 2010 to be exact), we received the following email from a Christopher Harris, who we assume is the person who refers to himself as “The Gaffer”:

I noticed that you have registered the domain name epltalksucks.com and that you’re now posting articles on that site. The registration of the domain name infringes upon and violates the rights of EPL Talk. The EPL Talk name has been trademarked since 2005.

As the trademark owner/registrant, I have the right be able to obtain lost profits or damages against you in a civil action.

Please advise if you continue planning on owning and using the domain name in question.

So, being curious and all we did a trademark search. And found nothing. Finding that even more curious, I contacted two different lawyer friends in two different states and had them do a trademark search. The fact that they are in different states isn’t really relevant, I just want to make the point that these two lawyers didn’t know each other and were unaware I had asked the other to look up the same thing.

Anyway, both lawyers said the same thing. No ‘EPL Talk’ trademark was registered to a Christopher Harris. In fact, you can go check yourself. We just did it again and couldn’t find an “EPL Talk” registered to anyone.

Nevermind that the URL registration doesn’t violate any of the seven or eight elements that would make it actual trademark infringement and that the parody site (had we not been lazy) would have fallen under fair use. But who the hell sends vaguely threatening emails to other blogs based on what we can tell is somewhere between either a lack of understanding of the law or an out-and-out lie?

We know the answer to that question, but we’ll bite our tongue. We’re willing to be wrong here. If someone has a trademark, show us the registration. Otherwise we invite that person to shove something that is wider in diameter than it is tall up his or her backside.

We’ve sometimes acted childish. And we haven’t made a ton of friends across blogfrica because we never tried to. We just wrote shit for our own amusement. But for all of the juvenile things we may or may not have done, we’ve never sent a vaguely threatening email based on claims that seem to be complete fabrications.

Lost profits and damages here are zero. Except maybe the damage you do to yourself by sending out the Internet equivalent of “Stop or I’ll tell my daddy on you” emails.

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Precious Roy