Sky came along with Keys & Gray in 1992 and now 20 years on now there is such an overkill of it, you can find a match to watch virtually every night of the week from any of the top 4 divisions, Scottish football, La Liga, Serie A, Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup, England internationals: you name it, it’s on TV.
Arsenal fans (and ones of other big clubs) suffer because, astonishingly, by the time the 2011-12 season ended on May 13th, just 10 of our 38 league fixtures had kicked off on a Saturday at 3 p.m.
24 of our games were shown live on either Sky or ESPN, with another three having been moved due to transport problems in London, with the final round of fixtures all kicking off at 3 p.m. on a Sunday to (probably) maximise viewing figures.
I don’t actually have a problem with big games being shown on television. I can accept that our matches against the likes of Man Utd, Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool will be shown. But it’s the regularity of the ‘lesser’ fixtures, as it were, being shown all the time that has started to grate with me, and it’s the kick off times that are the most frustrating.
As with all regular away followers, I like to visit new grounds each season, and so I looked forward to ticking Swansea’s Liberty Stadium off the list, and I also wanted to visit Norwich’s Carrow Road, as I was away on holiday when we last played there in August 2004.
The Norwich game was a 12.45 p.m. early Saturday kick off, so I was faced with either getting up at 5.30 a.m. to catch a train or, as a few of us ended up doing, travelling up the day before, thus incurring extra costs due to staying in a hotel overnight. Swansea away in January was moved to a 4 p.m. kick off on Sky Sport’s ‘Super Sunday,’ which given my residence west of London didn’t appear to be that inconvenient at first. That was until First Great Western announced that there would be engineering works all weekend and the line would be shut between Cardiff and Swansea. Luckily, a mate of mine was planning to drive to the game, so I got a lift with him.
I do honestly wonder if any of the people who decide which games to broadcast take any sort of consideration on travelling fans or even those of the home team who don’t live near their team’s ground. Newcastle away – 5.15 p.m. on a Saturday; Sunderland FA Cup away – 5.30 p.m. on a Saturday, and zero trains back for either. Blackburn away – 12.45 p.m. on a Saturday; Bolton and Everton away – both mid-week, and even for home fixtures thinking about the travelling fans, Newcastle and Wigan, both at 8 p.m. on a Monday night. It is completely and utterly unnecessary, and I doubt the viewing figures for some of them are really worth it.
The Premier League television rights deal for 2013-2016 is currently open to offers, and they are now asking for bids on a deal that will have 154 matches shown per season (16 more than we currently have), which is approximately 40% of the games per season. That means on an average weekend, 4 out of 10 games will be on television, not taking into account ones that are moved to early kick offs on police advice or due to transportation issues.
Do we really need games on that much? My suggestion would be for a maximum of two games per weekend shown, and the broadcasters can have one at 4 p.m. on a Sunday, plus a choice out of 12.45 p.m. and 5.15 p.m. on a Saturday for the other and, if one weekend we have Wigan vs Norwich rather than Chelsea vs Man City, then so be it.
I will concede, though, that unfortunately that will never happen, and I do worry that eventually most games will be played at times to suit the foreign broadcasters, especially considering the amount of revenue they bring to our league, which affords us some of the best players in the world.
I do wonder how far it will go before viewing figures start to drop off, or attendances in the stadiums start falling because the thought of paying £50 per ticket plus travel costs to see your team play away on a Sunday lunchtime is rejected in favour of television, when the game is being beamed in 3D straight into your eyeballs from the comfort of your own armchair.