TV schedule imperfect but a sign of the times

Posted by Phil Lythell

Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP/Getty ImagesChelsea fans will endure added difficulties to see the Blues once the season starts

As ever, the release of the television schedule for the opening few months of the 2013/014 season has caused much consternation among football fans.

Almost a month after the fixtures were initially announced, SKY and BT Vision have decided upon the first tranche of matches that will be transmitted by their channels resulting in changing kick-off times and alternative dates. This ever-evolving fixture list means that those who follow the team home and away have to adjust their plans at the whims of the broadcasters, often finding themselves no longer able to attend rearranged games or being forced to undertake journeys at anti-social times when few transport options are available.

With their current stature in the English game and the return of Jose Mourinho, Chelsea are a particularly hot property at the moment and have thus been one of the clubs most affected by the demands of television. Out of the first 12 Premier League matches that the Blues will play, only two of them have not been slated for broadcast – the home meetings with Cardiff City and West Bromwich Albion.

By and large, any alterations to home fixtures have a minimal impact on supporters, but those away matches that attract a large loyal following every other week are the ones that suffer at the hands of television executives. The huge early-season clash at Manchester United has now been moved to a Monday night, meaning that the away fans will not return back to London until the early hours of Tuesday -- not ideal if you have to be in work the next morning.

On the other side of the scale, Newcastle United take on Chelsea at St James' Park at 12:45 on Saturday 2nd November. The upshot is that Blues fans wishing to watch their team on Tyneside will have start their longest away trip of the domestic season well before dawn in order to make it in time. These obstacles are bad enough to start with but are made even worse by the paucity of transport options available early in the morning or late at night, with often car or official club coaches being the only choices on offer. This is not a new issue -- Chelsea have suffered at the hands of schedulers before, most notable when their 2002 FA Cup semi final against local rivals Fulham was bizarrely held 100 miles away at Villa Park on a Sunday evening.

The result of all of this is much anger and resentment from the club's travelling army, all of it perfectly understandable.

Then problem is that are there are several factors for the authorities to look after rather than just the away supporters. Television has changed the face of football over the last two decades and while there have been obviously been some negatives of this revolution, there have been undeniable positives. The massive increase in revenue from the collective selling of television rights by the Premier League has seen vast amounts of money flow into the game, ultimately enabling Chelsea to become the global name and powerhouse they are now.

Roman Abramovich might have ultimately bankrolled the club, but it was the glitz and glamour of the re-branded domestic game that lured him to London in the first place. If you disagree, consider this: can you imagine Abramovich buying the club in the early 1980s when Stamford Bridge was a half-empty crumbling edifice and Chelsea were beset by a notorious hooligan element?

There is certainly an argument to say that football has sold some of its soul for the corporate dollar but rarely is there a situation in any walk of life where benefit arrives with no compromise. It is for this reason that the calls for the boycotting of SKY and BT Vision by some irate supporters is also wide of the mark unless of course they are content with leaving the likes of watching Eden Hazard behind and going back to the days of Jerry Murphy or Dave Mitchell. Trust me, nobody wants that.

Greg Wood/AFP/Getty ImagesChelsea's early-season trip to Man United has been shoved to a Monday night, hardly ideal for working fans making the trip.

There is also the rather important fact that not every supporter is able to attend every single game home and away, whether for financial, professional or familial reasons. That doesn't necessarily make them any less of a supporter than those who never miss a match, perhaps just a victim of their own changing circumstances. People who have followed their team for decades but now find themselves with a young family to look after and their leisure time limited, for instance, also deserve the right to be able to watch their team play, even if it is on television. It shouldn't be the sole preserve of those with understanding spouses and generous employers.

Getting away from the emotive question of loyalty, the fact is that the vast majority of supporters love watching football whoever is playing. One of the positives of the media explosion around the game has been the exposure to the watching public of the game in all countries and at all levels resulting in a broader knowledge base and greater appreciation. That would be lost if all matches began at the 'traditional' kick off time of 3pm as Football Association regulations prohibit the broadcast of live football in England at this time due to a perceived threat to the attendances at other matches playing at the same time. The wider audience therefore must also be considered and that audience will consist of similarly committed supporters of rival teams as well as the much-derided 'armchair fan'. After all, Chelsea supporters like to watch games involving Arsenal or Manchester Untied just as the reverse is true and its a bit difficult to do that if both games are being played at the same time and neither are being broadcast.

The football authorities have a history of treating fans poorly, you only have to rewind a couple of months and analyse the paltry ticket allocation given to Chelsea for the UEFA Europa League final in Amsterdam for evidence, so gripes are fully merited. As a lifelong Chelsea fan, I fully sympathise with those inconvenienced by the rearranged fixtures especially as train fares escalate while the television companies procrastinate. To their credit, Chelsea FC have responded promptly and considerately by offering subsidised travel for four matches including the aforementioned trips to Old Trafford and St James' Park.

This will go some way to alleviating the anger of those that spend their hard earned cash and their weekends following the team they love. It is not a perfect situation but it is a decent compromise and if the team reclaim the Premier League title all these disruptions will be pushed to the back of jubilant minds.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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