Has LIVE Football Killed The Fixture List?

A couple of years ago I had a spat with a fellow contributor to a football fanzine, when I perhaps foolishly commented that supporters that have to travel a long way to see their team play cannot complain when fixtures are moved for television or other reasons. That was the world we now lived in, part of the all-powerful Sky behemoth, and was part of the deal of getting all that lovely money. And out-of-towners had to accept that getting to matches can sometimes be very difficult.

He disagreed. Strongly. And with every passing year I move closer to his way of thinking.

Last Thursday, Manchester City announced the odd fixture change or two for the month of April.

Manchester City v Sunderland is now on Sunday 3rd April, 4.00 pm. Live on Sky Sports (but subject to involvement in a FA Cup 6th Round replay). Liverpool v Manchester City is now on Monday 11th April, 8.00 pm. Live on Sky Sports. Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur is now on Sunday 17 April, 1.30 pm. Live on Sky Sports (but subject to participation in the FA Cup Semi-Finals). Blackburn Rovers v Manchester City is now on Monday 25 April, 8.00 pm. Live on Sky Sports. Oh, and Manchester City v West Ham United is now on Sunday 1 May, 4.10 pm. Live on Sky Sports of course.

In the quarter finals of the FA Cup, Manchester City or Aston Villa will play Everton or Reading at 4:45pm on a Sunday. Manchester City v Dynamo Kiev in the Europa League will kick off at 6pm, to suit television schedules. I should be thankful – in Kiev the first leg kicks off at 10:05pm. Liverpool themselves kicked off at 6pm in the previous round. Even last weekend, City should have played Fulham live on Sky on Monday night, but it was moved back to Sunday late in the day because City have to play Aston Villa in the FA Cup on Wednesday. Now if City draw with Aston Villa, then we’re really in trouble……

On Saturday, City play Wigan. This too is on Sky, so is a 5:30pm kick off. But never mind. I will only have to wait another two months to see City play on a Saturday (if they don’t change our May 7th fixture of course). And by the end of the season, City are virtually guaranteed to have appeared live on television at least forty times.

This will be a similar pattern to other clubs, especially the “big” ones that Sky et al love to show. Manchester United has had over 30 consecutive FA Cup games televised – every single tie since 2005. It seems to have jinxed them, as they haven’t won the competition since. United’s first six league games this season were televised. Sky and ESPN will show 138 league games in total this season – surely a record?

And then there’s football on a Monday. Sky love to ‘big up’ Monday night football. “Monday night football is back!” screamed Richard Keys back in August as though our lives had suddenly been enlightened after years in the wilderness. I guess for a viewer it’s nice to have a football match to watch on a Monday night, but if you choose to attend a match, I cannot think of a worse time. No day is safe from football any more. Well, maybe Christmas Day, but they used to play then as well, so don’t rule out a return.

I was under the vague impression that teams could refuse to move fixtures for television, but whether they can or not, they are unlikely to, considering the money on offer. Sky offer approximately half a million pounds a game to any club whose game is televised. Clubs are guaranteed ten payouts a season even if they aren’t televised that much. The FA Cup offers about a third of the Sky reward for a TV airing.

Most football fans prefer a Saturday 3pm kick off. This will never change. But any given week you can expect around 6 of the 10 Premiership games at most to kick off at that time. If you’re a team in the upper echelons of the Premier League, you will rarely kick off then.

As shown by United, it’s not just Sky of course that is causing rescheduling. And the Premier League would happily have every team play a game abroad each season. The day will come when Manchester United will play Liverpool at 2am on a Friday morning in silk kimonos to suit the Asian market. And let’s not forget it’s not just television that causes changes either. If you participate in the Europa League for example and play a game on a Thursday, the weekend game will automatically be switched to the Sunday. Domestic cup commitments might mean further changes. One way or the other, it seems few games stay where they were originally, if you’re even remotely successful at least.

So where does it all end? What is the tipping point? Do we accept the improvements that Sky (and to a lesser extent the other broadcasters) have brought to the game and accept that this is the consequence of their involvement? Or do we say enough is enough and look to limit the amount of changes to the fixture list? And do we accept that not all people can go to matches, and thus more televised football is only a good thing?

Personally speaking, I love football, but you can have too much of a good thing. Coverage has reached saturation point, and surely it is time to limit how much live football is shown. I wouldn’t count on it though.

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