Are TV rights more of a problem to football than a luxury these days?
There is no denying that TV rights have changed football, especially in the Premier League, for the better. Footballers get paid more, clubs benefit from the annual funding they get and the fans are given the opportunity to watch live matches from the comfort of their own home every week.
But the continuing argument is whether television has too much power and influence on the game these days, which is something Sir Alex Ferguson reiterated prior to Manchester United‘s 3-2 derby day victory over Manchester City on Sunday.
Fergie still maintains that Manchester United lost the Premier League title to Chelsea in 2010 because the TV schedule favoured the London club, with United playing in Europe in midweek prior to their tie on the Saturday. He argues that the “demand for United will never weaken” and that will be a disadvantage to them in the title race.
Now, as we approach the Christmas period, which is notorious for its busy fixture schedule, Premier League teams will be faced with a game every other 2.5 days as of the weekend before Christmas. A lot of that is down to Sky and ESPN having an influence over what games they want to broadcast and them keeping their schedules busy over a period when people tend spend a lot of their time at home.
Many insist that with the £3billion Sky and BT will be pumping into the game as of next season, they have every right to have an increased influence on the fixture schedule. Without Sky’s money, football would not be what it is today, which can be a good or a bad thing depending on how you look at it.
However, there has to be a level of responsibility, as well as common sense, when television begins listing their fixtures for live broadcast. For example, after the events at White Hart Lane last month involving West Ham fans and their anti-semitic chanting, you would think the return fixture – initially a 3 o’clock Saturday kick-off in February – would have been an acceptable time to keep the game away from the spotlight and to deter any more trouble between supporters. Instead, they have changed it to an 8pm kick-off on a Monday night, giving fans the chance to drink all day and potentially act like morons throughout the game again.
With it being a London derby, you would expect the game to be on TV. But for them to re-schedule the game in such a way is irresponsible and not doing any favours for the bitter feud the two sets of supporters are currently having
On the playing side of things, Fergie has a point. Of course, the Champions League fixtures in mid-week and the controversial Europa League schedule are not entirely the fault of television, but they have a say in how the Premier League can make it fair for the teams who take part in Europe when it comes to their weekend fixtures.
On April 6, City travel to United in what could be an important decider in the title race. The game falls just days after the Champions League quarter-finals first leg. If United reach that stage in the competition, their first leg will be on either April 2 or April 3, which leaves them with almost a week’s less preparation time than City for a game of such magnitude. That could have a significant impact on who is crowned Premier League champions come the end of the season.
The ongoing problem is that you only hear managers of the clubs competing at the top end of the table slamming television’s influence. Obviously that is because of their participation in Europe and the huge pressure they are under to win as much silverware as possible. More competitions means more games, which ultimately means more demand for your matches to be shown on TV.
It’s a vicious cycle and, although club’s cannot complain about their domestic and European success, they cannot also bemoan what TV rights have done for their finances over the years. One side of the spectrum sees TV being a luxury, while the other sees it has a problem that we have no choice but to accept and work with.
TV must start to put more thought into their broadcast schedule because there always seems to be teams that are left disadvantaged at the business end of the season, sometimes costing them silverware or results that might leave them finishing a couple of places lower in the table. Football is what it is today because of TV so its time for TV to do its bit in making it a fair playing field for those playing in Europe and competing for silverware.
What do you think? Does TV have too much power over the fixture list, or should the teams affected be grateful for what TV has done for their finances?