Sunday, 5 July 2015

The inevitably of the Premier League TV Schedules

To add to the list of peculiarities of modern football is the publication of the English Premier League's televised live matches. Much like the running order of Match Of The Day, the decision as to what team gets televised when and how, provokes the ire of some fans.

It is a fact that the Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool will get more airtime than Leicester, Stoke or Sunderland this season. And in turn those bigger clubs get more money for making more appearances. The inequity is clear and critics are right to ask, how can smaller clubs hope to catch up with the bigger clubs if the bigger clubs get more exposure and more money?

Were the broadcasters to answer this question it's likely that they would say that it is only reasonable to show the better teams with better players because that's more entertaining. They might also point out that bigger clubs have larger fan bases, many of whom subscribe to their sports channel so they are simply responding to a commercial imperative.

Of course to what extent that's truly an answer depends entirely upon your ideological approach to football. In any event, football clubs have, for better or worse, elected to enter into a partnership with broadcasters in order to earn lots of money. Far more money than they could hope to earn through the turnstiles.

The upside is the aforementioned wedge. The down side is the  biased coverage towards the bigger clubs and the loss of dignity in being used as a marketing tool between rival broadband suppliers, SKY and BT. A bit like Game of Thrones only with moderately less sex and violence.

Many people take issue with the scheduling of matches for the benefit of TV audiences. This is something that elicits sympathy and for good reason.

However, the shifting work patterns and social commitments in the UK means that an increasing number of people can't go to Premier League matches on Saturday afternoons. There are also other reasons for not being able to get to games, not least of which is the price of entry and inaccessibility for the disabled.

Shifting matches outside the Saturday afternoon embargo to accommodate TV coverage maybe commercially driven but it does give folk who can't get to games on a Saturday a chance to watch. Arguably, far more than the smaller number of away supporters who will miss out.

Looking at it that way you could argue that televised football is good for fans and that a balance has been struck between scheduling for TV and remaining faithful to the traditional kick off time of 3pm on a Saturday.

That is of course assuming people can afford the subscription prices and that they support a team that regularly appears on the telly. Supporters of Leicester, Stoke or Sunderland may not see much value in their SKY or BT subscription. Not to mention those who support non Premier League clubs.

Access to watch games has been an issue for supporters from the old days when kids would peer over the fence to today where people who are working, poor or  can't otherwise enter the ground. We live in a period of the game's story where we can watch more top class professional football than ever before. The pay off is that it's expensive and the scheduling and choice of matches is left largely to broadcasters and their narrow commercial needs.