Sir Alex Ferguson has branded TV “the devil” and said broadcasters have too much control over football’s fixture lists. Speaking to BBC North West Tonight Ferguson said clubs did not have enough say when it came to arranging games and claimed the top sides lose out.
“When you shake hands with the devil you have to pay the price. Television is God at the moment. It is king. When you see the fixture lists come out now, they can pick and choose whenever they want the top teams on television,” said Ferguson. “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.”
As the away supporter knows better than anyone, TV playing havoc with the fixture list is not a new phenomenon. Earlier this year the Football Supporters’ Federation reported that Chelsea fans had to go four months without a single away weekend fixture. Yesterday Sunderland fans faced an arduous trip for their team’s Monday night fixture at Norwich City. Two weeks before that Newcastle United fans made the 600-mile roundtrip for their Monday evening kick-off at QPR.
The FSF also received numerous complaints last week from West Ham United fans unhappy that their team’s match at Brighton had been moved from Saturday 22nd October to Monday 24th October at only four weeks notice, solely for TV’s benefit. The timing upset supporters coming only 24 hours after the deadline for match ticket purchase had passed. As a result many fans lost out on non-refundable hotel and travel expenses.
“This last minute change has massively inconvenienced West Ham fans, who have already forked out for tickets as well as train fares, often non-refundable, plus accommodation. These will now all have to be cancelled or rearranged at supporters expense,” said Hammer Alex Kirby.
West Ham told the FSF that the club had no prior warning that the fixture would be moved and did not find out themselves until the afternoon of Thursday 22nd September. The club has promised to refund match tickets to those fans who can no longer make the game.
The FSF strongly believes that consultation with supporters is a must to ensure a fair deal for the match-going fan. In negotiating future TV contracts the football authorities should include a requirement for broadcasters to give further advanced notification of changes to kick-off dates and times. If a broadcaster reneges on this supporters’ non-refundable ticket and travel expenses should be reimbursed.
Along with the Premier League the FSF has also been trying to persuade the rail operating companies to allow supporters to transfer advance purchase rail tickets, subject to a reasonable administration fee, when games are moved at short notice. This work will continue and links with the Passenger Focus group have been forged.
FSF deputy chair Jon Keen said: “Sir Alex might be complaining about the influence of TV now, but match-going supporters have known about this for the best part of 20 years. TV companies consistently disregard supporters when scheduling matches and, as a result, fans frequently find themselves either losing money spent on advance travel or just unable to get to games at all.
“The late rescheduling of matches for TV is an unnecessary obstacle for fans which certainly harms attendances. This is a real irony because one of the things that makes English football such a valuable ‘product’ in the first place is the backdrop of a passionate and vibrant crowd. TV scheduling policy could help kill that.”
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