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TV villans: Sky Sports disregard away fans once more

This is a story from the FSF archive – the FSF and SD merged to become the FSA in 2019.

Fans are all to used to broadcasters mangling the fixture list, but not many have experienced a kick-off being moved twice within 24 hours. David Michael from Villa blog My Old Man Said tells us about Sky’s hokey-cokey with their Norwich City away trip…

The switching of kick-off times for television has long been a bugbear to football supporters, especially season ticket holders and away supporters, who are inconvenienced the most.

Aston Villa supporters have had 20 fixtures switched for television this season, meaning a supporter that follows Villa home and away, will have had to switch their original planning from the start of the season for over half the team’s matches this season.

Like season ticket holders of all teams in the top two divisions, there’s little recourse for being in the position of paying upfront for matches in advance you don’t necessarily know the eventual dates for.

Faced with date changes, most supporters curse under their breath and soldier on. If they can’t switch their work commitments, then it’s simply considered sod’s law.

The question of the due diligence and consideration that the TV companies give fans, especially away supporters, was highlighted once again this month, when Villa and Norwich supporters experienced the unprecedented event of having their fixture switched twice within the space of 24 hours.

Originally, when April’s first batch of live television EFL match scheduling was announced by Sky TV, Aston Villa’s trip to Carrow Road on Saturday April 7th, had been shifted to a 5.30pm kick-off.

Yet, within 24 hours, Villa and Norwich fans were reaching for their diaries once again, as it was switched for the second time to an earlier kick-off time of 12.30.

Unsurprisingly, the EFL, Sky Sports or clubs didn’t offer supporters any reason why, nor noticeably did they apologise for the run-around.

The EFL statement was short on the matter:

Following a late change in the Sky Sports schedule, the fixture that was scheduled to take place at 5.30pm between Norwich City and Aston Villa on Saturday 7 April will now take place at 12.30pm. The match will still be broadcast live on Sky Sports.

To try and get some explanation, I spoke to both the EFL and Sky Sports TV asking why such an unprecedented double switch within 24 hours took place.

A spokesman for Sky TV suggested the root of the matter was both BT Sport and Sky TV trying to sync their schedules in what has become an increasingly very busy footballing month of April. The bigger than usual quota of English teams left in the Champions League has further complicated the matter of scheduling and carving up who shows what.

Seemingly negotiations between BT Sports and Sky TV for what games they’ll screen in the designated slots can go up until the last minute.

Apparently, at the eleventh hour, BT Sport gave up the 5.30pm slot on April 7 they were expected to take, so Sky Sports elected to screen the Manchester derby then.

The Norwich vs Villa game was then switched to an earlier slot to make sure the viewership didn’t suffer going up against the City vs United clash.

This raises the question of why releasing the dates of EFL and Premier League Sky TV announcements is staggered, if they can impact on each other? After all, if the EFL dates were held back 24 hours, there wouldn’t have been need for a double switch.

Most supporters understand the practice of fixture switches for television and the financial benefits it brings to their respective clubs, but there is still a matter of being courteous and considering supporters in such fixture changes.

Last season, when Aston Villa’s trip to Newcastle was switched to Monday evening, was it considered by Sky TV that the last train to get supporters from Newcastle to Birmingham that evening, left before the game kicked-off?

Likewise, when the Norwich vs Aston Villa game on April 7th was originally switched to a time of 17.30, while a two-and-a-hour shift doesn’t seem so bad on paper, the knock-on affect in terms of the practicalities of transport is considerable.

The last proper scheduled train service from Norwich to Birmingham leaves Norwich at 19.00, meaning fans would have to leave the match just after the second half kick-off to make the train.

The first train listed on the National Rail timetable that leaves after the game actually finishes is listed at 22.00. Costing £105, it takes 12 hours 32 minutes to arrive in Birmingham. Yes, that’s 10.32 Sunday morning. You could fly to Los Angeles or Beijing quicker.

Of course, there are the alternative transport options of car and coaches, so how do you measure what is an inconvenient kick-off time for away supporters?

Well, the available rail situation post-match can certainly provide a good rule of thumb of a match’s time being inconvenient.

The test is simple: Is there a train available after the match from the city of the match to the city of the visiting team?

If not, is the new time really in an away supporter’s best interest?

Thanks to Danny Molyneux for the image used in this blog. Reproduced here under Creative Commons license.

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