Kick-off times

TV camera pitchside at Palace

Following your football club isn’t always easy – it takes a huge amount of financial planning and time management to fit being a fan around life. Therefore, in a perfect world, fixtures would be announced as far in advance as possible and those dates would be set in stone because the football authorities put fans first.

Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world.

The football calendar is crowded and there are many reasons why fixtures are moved. Sometimes it’s for understandable reasons such as FA Cup replays, although the majority of changes which cause headaches for fans are caused by the game’s willingness to put TV ahead of the match-going supporter.

An example of this is the necessity for away fans, or those who travel long distances for home games, to book rail reservations 12 weeks in advance in order to secure cheap tickets. But fans are often left with worthless rail tickets as the leagues regularly move games for TV with only five weeks’ notice. It isn’t unknown for the Premier League or EFL to break their own “rules” on fixture announcements either.

Football’s sometime lack of willingness to schedule fixtures with fans in mind is another problem. A good example of this being derby games which are ideal fixtures for bank holidays when public transport is limited - but football clubs don’t want to do this as they think it could cost them money. Ultimately this means fans travelling more miles at unsociable hours, often during busy times of year such as the Christmas period or Easter weekend.

What can be done? There isn’t a magic bullet as domestic football’s competition organisers (Premier League, EFL, FA, National League et al) all have different and sometimes competing interests. They also have to mesh their fixtures into a crowded calendar which must also make space for European and international fixtures. This is done via the Fixtures Working Party which the FSF is represented on by National Council member Ally Simcock.

Lobbying broadcasters for a better deal

There has been some sterling work from FSF volunteers in trying to get to grips with this issue, and fans of top-flight clubs have been at the forefront via the Kick-Off Times Working Group (KOTWG) - established by fan representatives who attend the Premier League Structured Dialogue meetings. Tim Rolls (Chelsea Supporters’ Trust) leads this work along with Katrina Law (Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust) and Anna Burgess (Spirit of Shankly) under the auspices of the FSF.

The group came about after supporter representatives at Premier League Structured Dialogue meetings spoke to top-flight executives and realised more intensive work was needed to prove to broadcasters and the Premier League that the impact of their decisions upon travelling fans was hugely disruptive.

The KOTWG carried out a five-year analysis of rearranged, midweek and festive matches in terms of timing, distance and availability of scheduled rail services, highlighting:

  • The inability of the Premier League to reflect the needs of away supporters when scheduling midweek fixture tranches (e.g. on 13th and 14th December 2016 each of the 10 games required a round trip for away supporters of 280+ miles).
  • The lack of consideration for away supporters in terms of distance and availability of public transport when matches are moved for TV.
  • The fact that in 2017/18, clubs will play eight matches in 31 days from 2nd December: the most financially demanding time of the year for many fans.
  • The monetary impact of late fixture changes on supporters travelling by rail.
  • The lack of co-ordination between the Premier League, broadcasters and rail companies to consider scheduled line closures when selecting TV fixtures and compiling the fixture list.
  • Membership surveys by THST and CST made clear the impact of anti-social kick-off times on supporters’ ability to attend affected matches.

The report made a series of recommendations and led to a project plan, endorsed by the Premier League Fans Group. The initial target was to separately meet the Premier League, Sky Sports and BT Sport to present the report and identify ways forward. A number of meetings have now taken place and the group continues to work hard to secure improvements for loyal travelling fans.

The EFL and beyond

While top-flight fans do suffer the most disruption by broadcasters in terms of the proportion of games moved – around four times as many – that doesn’t mean fans in the EFL or non-league have it easy. And if your club’s game is moved to a shocker of a time it’s no consolation to hear that fans in other leagues have to put it with it as well.

With that in mind the FSF and our affiliated supporters’ groups continue to lobby on this issue in meetings with the EFL, who have agreed to broadcast up to 150 games per season from 2019, and the FA, who broadcast around 40 FA Cup games per season via BT and the BBC.

Thanks to Action Images for the image used.