FSF National Council members Ian Todd, Tim Hillyer, and FSF Caseworker Amanda Jacks visited Sky Sports HQ last month to talk football and TV fixture selection. Ian is also the FSF’s representative on the Fixtures Working Party and explains how the meeting went, below…
Amanda, Tim, and I met a team from Sky Sports featuring Steve Smith (Senior Football Director), James Motley (Head of Sports Publicity), Ash Ghai (whose job it is to actually process the selections), and Alex Henderson (Publicist) at the organisation’s HQ in Isleworth. For the record they follow Middlesbrough, Spurs, Arsenal, and Liverpool.
The purpose of the meeting was an exchange of views on the process of selection of games for live transmission. As fans, we want to understand why certain games are chosen and if there’s a way to improve things for the match-going supporter.
We also wanted to explain the frustrations, even bewilderment, that fans express at the decisions Sky Sports sometimes take. The knock-on effects can equate to huge levels of disruption and inconvenience for fans.
It was natural that Sky Sports would seek refuge in the criteria and restrictions they must meet within each of the five Premier League and single Football League package, but I don't think any of us had previously realised how complicated the structure is.
For example the number of sorts of top-flight games which must be selected is specified in each package, rather than an overall commitment across the five packages.
From our side we highlighted annoyance over the disparity in the number of times particular clubs were shown last season and how there seems to be little consideration of travel difficulties for away fans.
Examples of that include Cardiff City at Sunderland at noon on a Sunday and 4.10pm kick-offs at Swansea City (meaning it's difficult to catch the train which leaves on the half hour, not as big a problem for 2pm or 4pm kick-offs).
We also asked whether there ought not be some compensation scheme for fans affected by late changes. Unsurprisingly Sky Sports were insistent that the Premier League should fund this, their view being that they’d paid a lot of money for the right to broadcast games, and the Premier League could use some of that money to compensate fans, if they so wished.
There were also some other interesting insights, for example, TV loves going to Stoke City because of the atmosphere but last season the club saw fewer of their games on Sky Sports as they were mid-table and games had less relevance to title/relegation issues.
Of course when it comes to TV packages we have to be realistic about what can be achieved. The Premier League in particular receives huge amounts of money from the media, around £5bn at the last count. When TV says jump clubs tend to ask, how high?
If clubs are willing to ignore warnings from their own managers – both Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson have fumed on this in recent seasons – then it’s difficult for fans to dictate anything, especially when gate receipts make up a smaller proportion of revenue than media rights. He who pays the piper calls the tune.
However, we can continue to educate TV as to the dangers, if they take fans for granted. Do they want a TV “product” with empty stands or supporter protests? Can fixtures not be selected with more advance notice for fans? That could prevent supporters losing out on advance rail fares (Editor's note - BT/Sky Sports still haven't announced all TV fixtures).
Nobody was going into this meeting expecting to achieve a sea change but we felt it was 90 minutes well spent. They obviously did too as they later today expressed a wish “to continue the dialogue in some form”. This builds on the work I've already done with the Fixtures Working Party and we'll take them up on that offer.
- If you have any questions, ideas for future meetings, or are interested in the FSF’s Fixtures Working Party involvement, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to Action Images for the image used in this article.