Scottish Cup: Fourth round switch fails to attract support
The Scottish Cup has lost some of its allure. Moving the fourth round forward from its traditional slot in the calendar in January has proved unpopular.
The ties last weekend drew disappointing crowds, and the sense was that changing the point in the season when the top-flight clubs enter the competition has had a negative impact.
There are always subtleties to take into account, and the crowd of 14,412 at Ibrox for the visit of Kilmarnock was influenced by disaffection against the Rangers board and the quality of some of the football the team has played in recent times as much as the fixture date.
Even so, the topic raised plenty of spirited responses on social media.
That medium is not wholly representative of the wider body of supporters but at a provisional meeting of Championship clubs last week, there were no dissenting voices when the issue was raised along with the suggestion that the fourth round revert to January.
Scheduling isn't everything, The draw itself has an affect on crowds, but there were decent ties this season, with Celtic away to Hearts, Aberdeen at Dundee and Dundee United at Motherwell.
The average attendance across the 16 ties was 3,427, with four attracting less than 1,000.
|Falkirk chairman Martin Ritchie|
|"It's wrong if only 16 clubs survive in the competition before Christmas."|
Some clubs do not include this round of the Scottish Cup on season tickets, which inevitably impacts attendances but there are practical issues, too.
"When it comes to Christmas, supporters want something to look forward to. If their team isn't challenging for the league or [fighting] relegation, then the Scottish Cup is something to look forward to," said Falkirk chairman Martin Ritchie.
"It's wrong if only 16 clubs survive in the competition before Christmas. It also has a commercial affect, because fans are less likely to buy a strip for Christmas if there's nothing to look forward to.
"And previously, the draw for the cup was made in November or December, so fans knew what they were looking forward to."
Ritchie would like to see the fourth round in January and he raised the issue with Campbell Ogilvie, the Scottish Football Association president who was a guest at Falkirk's 1-0 Scottish Cup win over Cowdenbeath.
Ritchie intends to follow this up with a letter to Ogilvie. He also believes that the decision to move the fourth round - which was taken by the clubs in a vote themselves - is under review.
"It's to do with fixture congestion, and I know the fixtures are difficult, but I don't really see how it helps," Ritchie said of playing the fourth round in November/December.
"The crowds last weekend were appalling, it was our worst at Falkirk [for some time]."
It is not addressing scheduling in isolation that will help increase crowds. Falkirk had to charge the set £18 entry fee for adults for the Cowdenbeath tie despite wanting to reduce the price.
Any decision on the pricing of tickets for cup games has to be agreed by both sides. Falkirk only attracted a crowd of 1,237.
"Pricing is a problem," Ritchie said. "There is a set price for clubs for different leagues in the competition, but we can vary it if both clubs agree.
"We wanted to vary it to try to fill more of the stadium. I know it's difficult, but we need to find a better way to establish prices.
"We've got to change things, to make it better for supporters, because we need them to come to games."
At a time when the Scottish game needs better and more meaningful interaction with supporters, as well as with sponsors and other stakeholders, then decisions about the scheduling of the major cup competition ought to be taken with fans in mind.
The crowd at Fir Park for the visit of Dundee United was 4,827, with many of them away fans, while 12,676 attended the game between Hearts and Celtic at Tynecastle. The previous weekend, 17,004 attended the visit of Rangers in the Championship.
These are isolated examples, but the overall sense is that the scheduling of the Scottish Cup needs a rethink.