Dear TV - if you’re going to screw us over, please be gentle

TV cameras 3347024

Sky and BT have little interest in match-going fans, except as window dressing for their broadcast, but they could make things a whole lot easier for us. So argues Jamie Redfearn...

On Wednesday 19th June the fixture list for the 2013/14 Premier League season was announced. Three weeks later BT and Sky eventually got around to announcing which games will be on TV.

Those who prefer their football via the box probably won’t even have noticed the lag. What difference does it make to them?

But it’s a different story for match-going fans, especially those who follow their team away, or make long roundtrips to home games.

In theory fans have “known” their team’s fixtures for the past 23 days but any supporter booking time off work or paying for advance rail tickets would be taking a massive chance.

Out of the total 380 top-flight games 154 will be moved for TV (116 of them for Sky and 38 for BT). That’s four out of every 10 games.

As the season grinds on pundits will talk about the shuffling of games but it’s almost always seen through the prism of managerial moans and player preparation.

It’s especially entertaining when a manager approaches the problem as though it’s some quirk of the cosmos, as unfathomable as string theory, black holes and Gerry Francis’ hair.

He probably won’t mention that his club was entirely complicit in handing over football’s control of the fixture list to TV executives who (surprise, surprise) put their audience ahead of match-going fans, managers and players.

Of course, clubs don’t have to put out for TV. The Premier League negotiates media rights but it’s effectively a trade body for clubs. If clubs reject TV’s overtures games can kick-off at more manager friendly times.

Still up for it, boss?

The quid pro quo is that, in return, media deals disappear, revenues shrink, managers’ wages fall and transfer budgets disappear. Still up for it, boss? Thought not.

So the only people who really suffer from TV’s faffing about with fixtures are fans. Especially those who rely on the rail network and sympathetic bosses for time off work.

Clubs bank the cash and look the other way while keeping their fingers crossed that fans and managers will blame BT, Sky or the cosmos.

But we don’t want to let TV off too lightly. Yeah, they’ve paid billions for the rights and they’re going to squeeze it dry but they might like to be a little more considerate. It’d be for their own good, really.

Away fans spend more time and money on their team than most and, as a consequence, get shafted by TV on a more regular basis. But their loyalty also gives them a strong voice among their fellow supporters.

At the recent fans’ march to Premier League HQ, to protest against spiralling prices, the most common chant was, "We hate Sky Sports and we hate Sky Sports" (they didn’t run that on the ticker) even though ticket prices are nothing to do with Murdoch and co.

But blaming Sky has become shorthand for venting frustration at many of the modern game’s problems – rising prices, “plastic” fans, all-seater stadiums, the dominance of a small elite.

Yet the only thing Sky have ever had real control over is the selection of some kick-off times. They just handle it so badly that the (understandable) anger of travelling fans spreads and the game’s ills are all laid at Sky’s door. Once fans properly link BT and football, they’ll get blamed too.

Won't someone think of the fans?

So what’s the point of this ramble, I hear you ask? Well, like it or not TV has paid billions for the ‘product’ and they’ll cherry pick the fixtures they prefer at the times they prefer. I wish the clubs didn’t let them in the first place, but they do.

However, if TV companies just pulled their fingers out a little quicker they could avoid so much grief and negative PR.

Why did it take BT and Sky three weeks to work out which games they wanted to show? Why leave it till so late in the day to shift games around? They’re especially guilty of it later in the season.

There’s no utopian message here. Media moguls won’t suddenly “think of the fans” and cancel Super Sundays, especially not after taking out the football equivalent of a 125% mortgage.

But if they could get a move on and announce TV broadcasts within 24 hours of the fixture list coming out it would be a start. At least train tickets and time off work could be booked sharpish then. Surely that isn’t beyond BT and Sky’s capabilities?

They’ve paid billions for the flipping thing. Don’t they want as much time as possible to air all those exciting adverts featuring Gareth Bale mid-flight, legs akimbo?

And who knows, if they did get their act together and made things a bit easier for the hardcore, they might not get such a hard time of it when it comes to things outside of their control.

To paraphrase a sports fan called McNulty - if they’re going to screw us over, couldn’t they at least be gentle?

Thanks to Action Images for the image used in this blog.

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