SPORTS VIEW: Television will always reign supreme over the needs of fans

Does television possess an unhealthy and detrimental dominance over English football?

Following Sir Alex Ferguson’s recent views on how TV companies manipulate the fixture list for the benefit of their schedules, James Morris assesses the impact on clubs and fans.

                                                  

 

By James Morris
Twitter: @jamesalexmorris

‘‘We’ve got a three o’clock kick off tomorrow, I feel spoilt!’’

So said a Manchester United supporting friend of mine the night before United’s 2-0 win at home to Norwich City on Saturday.

This was the first time he was able to watch his team in the traditional 3pm Saturday slot since April 9, a 2-0 victory at home to Fulham.

Furthermore, in the wake of Sir Alex Ferguson’s comments about television being the equivalent to ‘‘God’’ in the modern game, it was also the first United game not to be shown live since the same date.

In his interview with BBC North West Tonight, Ferguson said: “When you see the fixture lists come out now, they (the television companies) can pick and choose whenever they want the top teams on television.’’

He is correct. The unofficial ‘top six’ in the Premier League (Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool) just so happen to be in the bottom six in terms of having the lowest percentage of 3pm Saturday kick offs since August 2008.

Amongst other things, Ferguson complained that Premier League clubs are not paid enough by the television companies, again showing his mastery of contradiction. United earned a huge £60m windfall for winning the 2010/11 Premier League title.

"When you shake hands with the devil, you pay the price" - Ferguson

Another issue is the rearrangement of fixtures for live television purposes, which he believes creates inherent unfairness for teams competing in midweek European fixtures.

“You get some ridiculous situations when you’re playing on Wednesday night in Europe and then at lunchtime the following Saturday. You ask any manager if they would pick that themselves… there’d be no chance,” said Ferguson.

But a major concern is the way in which rescheduled fixtures create huge inconvenience to football fans willing to travel from one end of the country to another in order to watch their team.

Go back to the second weekend of this Premier League season and you will recall that Tottenham played in front of the live television cameras at Old Trafford – on a Monday night.

These handpicked Monday night fixtures, which would otherwise take place on a Saturday or Sunday, are surely the most ugly
manifestation of the TV companies’ dominance of the game.

For instance, most of Spurs’ travelling supporters would have most likely been forced into taking half or even full days of work in
order to travel to Manchester from North London.

Look at other fixtures which have been rescheduled to Monday evenings for the benefit of the viewing public, and it doesn’t get much better:

  • Man City v Swansea (August 15)
  • QPR v Newcastle (September 12)
  • Norwich v Sunderland (September 26)

All of these late Monday night fixtures are wholly inconvenient for the thousands of away fans, yet it appears this is never given a moment’s thought.

Television is indeed the king that rules supreme. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against football being shown on television. In fact, I credit Sky Sports for re-igniting my love of the game.

I arrived at university having completely fallen out of love with football. Having had a season ticket at Crewe Alexandra in the dreadful 2007/08 season, I had lost my football soul after watching turgid football pretty much every game.

Yet my first year flat miraculously came free with two Sky Sports channels, where I witnessed some classics (Arsenal 4-4 Tottenham and Everton 2-3 Aston Villa come to mind) which got my passion for football flowing once more.

I have issues only with the way that the football authorities appear powerless to stand up for the game’s lifeblood – the fans –
because of a newspaper baron’s billions

You have to question whether any of English footballs power brokers will ever stand up for the fans.

In any case, when all is said and done about television in football, it could be worse. Just look at Spain.

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