By Mike Collett
LONDON (Reuters) - An FA Cup qualifying round tie that would normally attract a crowd of about 90 people could boast a potential global audience of 700 million after an agreement was reached to broadcast Friday's match on the social networking site Facebook.
The extra-preliminary round fixture between Ascot United and Wembley will become the first match ever to be broadcast live on the site after a deal was struck between the Football Association and the competition's new main sponsors Budweiser.
Budweiser's marketing director Iain Newell said the company, who earlier this year signed a three-year sponsorship deal with the FA worth 24 million pounds ($39.4 million), were intent on taking soccer's oldest competition back to global pre-eminence, and at the same time, take it back to the fans.
"The FA Cup started 140 years ago this year and what better way to do demonstrate our commitment than by broadcasting the very first kick to a global audience via Facebook," Newell told Reuters.
"This is the first time any match has been broadcast live on the social network which is great news for fans and clubs alike."
The clubs, who play in suburban leagues at the lower end of the English soccer pyramid, will both be paid nominal broadcast fees for the match at the ground situated within the boundaries of the Ascot Racecourse and has a capacity of around 1,500.
Ascot chairman Mike Harrison told Reuters: "Naturally this is the biggest thing that has ever happened to the club.
"People talk of the FA Cup losing its gloss and that's true if Manchester City or Bolton Wanderers put out their reserve team to play a match.
"But the whole town is absolutely buzzing. We run 67 teams in all age groups and have 800 players on our books and are one of the biggest grass roots clubs in the country.
"We had 88 people for a league match last night, but might get 500 or even 800 for Friday's game. The fact millions more might well be watching on Facebook is astonishing. The whole place has gone bananas.
"The FA Cup has lost none of its magic as far as we are concerned. Not only that but the wife of our manager Jeff Lamb is expecting their first child on Friday. It promises to be quite a day."
An FA spokesman said other matches in the qualifying competition could also be shown on Facebook, but added: "There are no plans to do so yet, but it could happen up until the first round stage when the broadcasting contract between the FA, ITV and ESPN comes into operation."
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(Reporting by Mike Collett; Editing by John O'Brien)