TV plays havoc with Chelsea fans' travel plans

The FSF has been contacted by numerous Chelsea supporters upset at the impact of TV rescheduling on their away fixtures, meaning they must go an astounding 16 weeks without an away league match on a weekend.

The moving of three away matches for screening by TV to Monday nights, coupled with two away matches scheduled for midweek, means that every single Chelsea away match in the Premier League between 12th December (at Spurs) and 2nd April (the visit to Stoke) is a midweek match.

All football supporters know that there are countless obstacles which make attending away matches difficult at the best of times – not least the time and cost to get to matches, often at the other end of the country. But midweek away matches make these obstacles even more pronounced – for many long-distance midweek matches travel by public transport is simply impossible, so if non-drivers don’t want to miss the match they need an overnight stay and a journey spread over two days. Of course, supporters who work (and let’s face it, how many can afford Premier League tickets without a good income?) need to take time off - if they can get it. 

But what is really galling for many Chelsea supporters is that even if they can’t make away matches, they’re still forced to pay for a ticket. The Chelsea away season ticket scheme, to which many supporters have subscribed in order to ensure they get away tickets, has a blanket “no refunds” policy. Supporters must pay for a ticket for every Premier League away match, even those that they are unable to attend because of TV scheduling changes. such as re-arranged Monday evening fixtures away to Bolton and Blackpool.

Many other clubs have provisions in their away season ticket schemes to allow members to return a small number of tickets each season, and the FSF definitely applauds this as a supporter-friendly best practice. But Chelsea have no such refund policy – under their scheme supporters are committed to paying for a ticket to every single away match, no matter where or when it’s held, and whether or not they can make that match. 

The FSF spoke to Chelsea about this, and they told us: “When fans sign up to the away ticket scheme it is made clear that they are purchasing tickets to all of Chelsea’s Premier League away games. Knowing fixtures do move during a season, (a decision not made by the club), it is a judgement call as to whether the benefits of the scheme outweigh the issue of not being able to attend a re-scheduled fixture.”

How many Chelsea supporters who signed up for this scheme at the start of the season could have reasonably expected to have not one single weekend away match for over three-and-a-half months?  Considering that the Premier League Facility Fee which Chelsea receives for each televised match is a staggering £499,734, we don’t think that offering refunds to loyal supporters who can’t attend matches which have been moved for TV is an unreasonable gesture to ask of the club. The moving of matches for TV is one of the hottest issues for football supporters, and one of the most frequent complaints the FSF hears about– and not just from supporters of Premier League teams. 

Many supporters gamble on advance booking of hotels or transport where they can get these much cheaper– but there is almost always a policy of “no refunds” on any such advance bookings, so supporters have to choose between either gambling on matches not being moved or waiting and paying higher prices for travel or accommodation.  Many Chelsea supporters have gambled and lost on their match at Blackpool. And whilst supporters know matches are liable to be changed, the price differences between booking in advance and booking closer to the match date are so large that it’s no wonder many do take the gamble.

The FSF has asked the Premier League on many occasions to make things easier for match-going supporters of matches by removing the problems they experience when matches are moved for TV.  There are no guarantees although the Premier League has told us that TV companies will “try” to give a minimum of 6 weeks’ notice before moving matches, although this period may be shorter towards the end of the season.  But those are guidelines only, so travelling supporters have no comeback when matches are moved. 

Our view is that there should be a fixed minimum notice period for the rescheduling of matches, across the whole season – for instance a period of 6 weeks.  Should a match be rescheduled after that date, any advance travel and accommodation expenses lost by supporters as a result would be reimbursed by the league or the clubs involved.

The Premier League tell us that imposing conditions like this onto the TV companies would reduce the value of their “TV product” and thus the income from the TV contract, and that their clubs would not stand for this.  But everyone knows that a key part of the value of that “TV product” comes from the atmosphere in the stadium and the vibrancy of the crowd, and especially the away support.

“The people at Sky care little for the supporters who attend matches and conspire with Premier League and FA to move kick-off times from 3pm on Saturdays to any other time to suit the schedule of Sky Sports who cater for what can only be described as armchair fans. Supporters who attend matches are the lifeblood of the game - imagine watching a match on television that had no supporters inside the stadium? The game just wouldn’t have the same appeal,” said Chelsea fanzine cfcuk. The fanzine also objects to Sky’s use of supporters to promote their TV “product” while at the same time inconveniencing those very fans.

“We have a strict policy of not dealing with Sky in any way, shape or form. Any roving reporters who come our way on matchdays are given extremely short shrift, we refuse to do any interviews with their journalists and we vocally object to their cameramen filming our staff. We strongly urge all who read this article to join us in a boycott of anything to do with Sky, either on a matchday or by cancelling their Sky Sports subscriptions.”

Unless something is done to remove the obstacles that currently make it so hard for away supporters to attend matches - not just rescheduling for TV but other factors, including ticket pricing – then the number of away fans at matches will continue to fall.  And what will matches in sterile, noiseless and half-filled grounds with a handful of away supporters do to the value of the “TV product”?

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