Destroying the game: how the stand off between Sky and fans over fixture changes can be resolved

By Tony Attwood

I am as appalled as anyone over the way Sky has had the power to change the timing of the Leicester game, not least because I know how much difficulty this has meant for Walter and the members of Arsenal Belgium.  And not just because I count these guys as my friends, but because they are among the most dedicated fans I know.

There have been several suggestions made as to how fans might react.  Blacksheep on Untold suggested giving up the Sky subscription.  Leicester fans have suggested coming into the game five minutes late.   But the reality is that Sky won’t report any of this, the Premier League will gloss over it, and it will be left until it happens again next season.  Nothing will change save the fact that the precedent will have been set, Sky will see nothing happens and the greedy buggers will do it again next year.

But I think there is an alternative approach that will work.   It won’t happen straight away but it could resolve the whole situation.

First off, let’s have all Premier League games televised live.   Next season there will be six slots available – Friday night, Saturday 12.45pm, Saturday 5.30pm, Sunday 2pm, Sunday 4pm, Monday night.  Four of these slots could have two matches in, and there you are – every match being televised.

Three months ahead the TV companies could bid for the rights for the games that weekend, and then we’d know what’s on, and that no further games would be moved.  Throw in a rule that says every club must have equal numbers of games on each slot, and no one gets to suffer any more than anyone else.

It’s not at all ideal, but there is no ideal in this process, so let’s see what might happen.

Firstly with a choice of games, the audience per game might go down, although I doubt it, and even if it did, the extra number of games would compensate the clubs for that.

Second, international sales would go up, because there would be more games at different times on overseas TV.

Third, pressure would immediately build to remove the ludicrous rule that says no televised games on the Saturday afternoon.   Get rid of that and some fixtures could be moved back to Saturday 3pm.

Fourth, we might presume that smaller PL clubs might lose out on their crowds at the games.  We might presume that, but thus far there is no evidence of this.  People still want to go to football matches, even away football matches staged at ludicrous times.

Fifth we could bring in rules that made it essential for matches to take into account the travel arrangements of fans.    We do after all have computers to do these things.

So, televise all games, and abandon the Saturday rule and the 10 games scheduled for a weekend could run

  • Saturday 1pm – two games
  • Saturday 3pm – two games
  • Saturday 5pm
  • Saturday 7pm
  • Sunday 1pm
  • Sunday 3pm – two games
  • Sunday 5pm

And look, we’ve now got rid of those wretched Friday and Monday games.

I don’t like this particularly, but it is better than the system we have at the moment, an equitable arrangement if we are going to have live football on TV, and if we are going to know a long way in advance when the games are going to be scheduled.

If you don’t like that, try this.   All the 10 games are played on a Saturday at 3pm, and all are televised live with the TV stations paying compensation to any club that has less than it might have anticipated had their been no cameras.   All we need then it is to get rid of the stupid “no live matches at 3pm Saturday rule” and all is sorted.

At this point the question arises, “what about Championship football?” etc.

If you read Untold regularly you might have picked up that I actually care a lot about lower league and grassroots football, and even though I spend my time watching Arsenal and I do very occasionally find a way to watch such clubs as Guernsey FC (my spiritual home on my mother’s side), Corby Town (my local club), Poole Town (the club I watched after my parents moved from north London to Dorset) and Torquay Utd (where I saw the last games that I shared with my father, before he passed away).

So what am I doing suggesting live football on TV all weekend?

The League refused to allow football on TV in England for years and years and years because it feared it would reduce the crowds.   The Football League in the 1930s even stopped radio broadcasts of games for the similar reason.  (There was no evidence, but then the Football League, like the aaa, has never liked evidence).

And yet despite the blackout, Arsenal’s crowds in the mid 1970s were down to under 20,000 at time – let me stress, with no football on TV.  The reason was that the media, given free rein, painted a picture of football as being so bleak and appalling that no sane person would go to a match.  People couldn’t judge for themselves, so didn’t go.

Opening up football to everyone on TV would not, in my view, stop people going.  We go, because being there is part of the deal.  Occasionally one of the smaller clubs I support gets a match on TV (yes they do show Conference games live), but I really have little interest in it.  I go, because being there is everything.

But what if I’m wrong?  OK, do the deal for one season as an experiment.  See what happens.  At least then we’d know.

Two more anniversaries

  • 25 January 1981: Francis Jeffers born.  He scored 20 goals for Arsenal but never delivered to his potential and continued a nomadic existence seemingly ending of his career with Accrington Stanley in 2013 – although he was reported having a trial with Chester in 2014.
  • 25 January 1993: Leeds United 2 Arsenal 2. FA Cup 4th round.  This was cup match 8 in Arsenal’sCup Double season.  Parlour and Merson scored.

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13 Replies to “Destroying the game: how the stand off between Sky and fans over fixture changes can be resolved”

  1. Anything to avoid the mess we are in right now as a foreign supporters club.
    Some people had to cancel because of the move.
    Our bus company is still looking to book new passages and fit in the ridiculous early kick off with the trains….

    So less than 3 weeks before kickoff we are not even sure we will get there around 10.00 Sunday morning….

  2. Tony – Having parallel games is an interesting idea. But I am certainly against 3pm Saturday games. Would cause a major problem from the Championship to the grass roots. I used to play on Saturday afternoons and I don’t think it would have helped player availability if there had been a big televised game at 3pm.

    Other possible slots include Saturday and Sunday evenings. Could try:

    Friday 8pm
    Saturday 12.30pm, 5.30pm, 8pm.
    Sunday 12 noon (not keen on this though), 2pm, 4pm, 6pm, 8pm.
    Monday 8pm

    The other thing that should definitely happen is that teams playing in Europe must have at least 72 clear hours between games (although this may be a challenge for Europa League – but Thursday night games are ridiculous. Should be back to Tues/Weds…).

  3. Until I moved miles from London about seven years ago I held season tickets at both the Emirates & AFC Wimbledon ( at Kingsmeadow ) and fortunately was able to watch matches each week with very few clashes. This continued after I moved until I became exasperated with London Transport so gave them both up. If Arsenal games had been televised on a Saturday at 3.00pm and they clashed with AFCW I would have deferred to Arsenal at the expense of Wimbledon and would probably had given up my season ticket & just gone to selected games.
    It wouldn’t have worked for me, but perhaps for the majority of fans it would have.

  4. Absolutely shocking that the PL has changed this fixture to noon on a Sunday. Loads of fans will have booked transport and accomadation

    Plus we’re hopeless at early kick offs 🙂 🙂

    I hope by the time this fixture arrives that Flamini has been put out to pasture and Coquelin is back with Elneny having played well v Burnley. I can’t cope with Flamini selling our defence short time after time.

  5. Brilliant idea Tony. I’d never considered that all the matches could be televised. If something could be worked out along the lines you and others have suggested it would be good solution for the nonsense that occurs with the TV schedule being changed.

    I think the way Sky and the league treat supporters is apalling and any suggestions can only be good. Whilst I am not as affected as Walter and other long distance supporters I had hoped to have that Sunday free as it is my 40th wedding Anniversary! I had written a piece for the ‘Final Word’ section of the Arsenal programme on the subject of fixtures and changes affecting Gooners decision in settling the date of their wedding. Whether it is published or not remains to be seen. I had finished off by saying that at least this year I didn’t have to make a decision as the TV schedule had been fixed and I was free on the day only to have to send an alteration to the programme editor a few days later.

  6. Tony,

    Excellent idea but it should be a single subscription.

    I suggested a scheme to Sky but they weren’t all that interested. However, now, it’s more than Sky, it’s also BT.

    So we pay TWO subscriptions to “maybe” watch a match if convenient, and most probably not involving Arsenal.

    My idea was a single platform, probably administered by a club subscription. All viewing fees are fixed, no club can charge more than another. This would be fantastic for fans who can’t get to games and can’t get or afford a season ticket. Subscription includes every home and away league game.

    No commentators required – we are football supporters, we know whats going on – but a couple of pitch side microphones would be essential.

    This would require an agreed, single platform – and would be in addition to Sky Sports and BT Sport subscriptions. If you only want to watch Arsenal, you could cancel the other subscriptions. You would still need to pay for Champions League, or these could be optional extras.

    £190 quid a season to watch EVERY Arse league game both home and away. (That’s a fiver per match)

  7. The solution is simpler. Play all matches at 3pm on Saturdays & televise the recording whenever the f*^k the TV companies want with all the breaks under the sun & advertise the hind legs of Scudamors cat. The non domestic viewer will watch as will those domestic viewers who cannot afford the live match costs.

    Why do teams have to play at stupid times when all that is needed is the money from advertising? There is no compulsion for the match to be live apart from boasting.

    The game is being raped by TV because nobody has basic logic.

  8. The top echelon of professional football clubs are now financial institutions and for years have steadily been taken over by the power of satellite television and its associate, advertising.
    Money talks these days and the ever increasing costs of wages chasing ticket prices, transfer fees and ancillary charges clubs levy on supporters, has given free rein to the broadcasters to flex their muscle in an ever increasing way. BT has now joined Sky to add to the problem.
    Older supporters will no doubt recall the slogan when the infant commercial TV was born….”a licence to print money”.
    Until steps can be taken to curb the gravy train, it will continue to steam on, hell-bent to destruction. Football’s governance throughout the world will have taken second place to the television companies and there is only one certain conclusion.

  9. Great idea, Menace. Cowards like me who are too scared to watch the match live could then watch the replay – as long as we won! If I’m at a match it feels completely different from watching it on TV.

    The TV match is altered by so much – the commentary, the choice of shots, the choice of replays, the absence of fans – that I don’t even feel as if I’m watching a real football match. And there’s that horrible tension, which you can stand so much better when you’re surrounded by other football fans.

  10. I live abroad some of the time and can get a saturday
    3 oc kick off spain they have differant kick off times.

  11. norman14
    I think the clubs are going to move away from TV companies in the future. Each club will film it’s own matches, (most do anyway), but then stream it themselves per subscription channel. As clubs start to use the media more and more it is inevitable they will want to have full or more control of their product.

    The packaging from the various networks of football is somewhat lacking and childlike even with all the techno gear they use to convey theories and opinions to the viewer.

    Don’t even get me started on the commentary they produce.

    Does anyone remember the days when commentary was really informative, exciting fun to watch/listen? And they did not have all that techno gear either. Now it is sterile and boring.

  12. This proves once and for all that the TV companies don’t take match-going fans into consideration when they make these decisions. We shouldn’t be surprised but this really is a new low and why the Premier League didn’t tell Sky there was no chance they could move the game at such short notice is beyond me.

    Walter, I did post the following on your original article about this but it was a few days after you first posted it so perhaps it hasn’t been seen:

    “Walter, you know we don’t see eye to eye on plenty of other footballing issues but I’m with you 100% on this.

    It’s one thing moving games for TV – I think most of us accept that this in itself is part of football in this day and age – but there are clear guidelines to follow and one of these is to give at least 6 weeks notice of fixture changes for TV purposes. This means that all the February TV games were announced back in December, and Arsenal v Leicester wasn’t one of them so fans of both clubs could then make whatever travel and/or accomodation arrangements they needed to make based on a Saturday 3pm kick-off. To now move this fixture is a complete and utter disgrace, and I’m sure the Football Supporters Federation (an organisation that I’m affiliated to) will be putting a complaint in to the Premier League.”

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