Last weekend's third-round FA cup matches brought with them a seasonal outbreak of pundits complaining that Premier League clubs weren't taking the competition seriously enough, and proposing impractical or foolish ways to change that.
The reason why the Premier League clubs are not that interested is simple: it's the money. The reward for finishing in the top four places (out of 20) in the Premier League is entry to the Champions League, where a team now receives €12m simply for playing in the group stage, and English teams roughly double that from their share of the 'Market Pool'. The penalty for finishing in the bottom three places is relegation from the Premier League, with a massive reduction in revenues for at least one year - the bottom club last year was paid £64.9m for its efforts, gate money aside: this year the same team, now playing in the Championship, will get a £24m 'parachute payment' instead.
Even for a mid-table team, Premier League results are worth a lot of money. Last year, there was a 'Merit Payment' of £1,244,898 per place. The difference between 5th and 17th place in the final table has averaged 28 points over the last ten years — 2.33 points per place. That makes a Premier League win, worth 3 points, carry an expected financial reward of £1.6m .
Compare that with FA cup prize money. The reward for winning a third-round match is £67,500. The total payment for winning the cup — six matches — is £1,777,500 . It makes no financial sense for a Premier League team to tire its best players, and risk injuring them, in pursuit of such relatively small sums.
If you want Premier League teams to take the competition seriously, you have to pay them for it. A win bonus of £1.6m a match would be the right sort of sum. That's a lot of money: it would cost £100m to pay it to the winner of each of the 63 ties played from the third round onwards (some of the winners would be clubs outside the Premier League, who would surely appreciate the income). But the Premier League's annual television revenues under its latest deals (starting next season) will be £2.8bn per year or so. By redirecting three and a half percent of that it could make the FA Cup — the world's oldest football compeition — into something worth watching. How about it?