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Warning: Beware of “conditional” picks

The volume of televised games is at an all-time high and, with more clubs playing in Europe than ever, the problem of “conditional” TV selections has become particularly acute.

What we’ve come to term a conditional pick is when a game is selected for broadcast, having its kick-off moved from the traditional 3pm slot into a televised one, yet remains at high risk of being moved again because of a potential fixture clash.

This means we see games being moved twice or more (in extreme cases) and it’s a major headache for fans planning to get to games – particularly for away fans or those who travel long distances to home games.

Buck passing

Last season, the problem of these conditional TV selections reared its ugly head in the very first round of TV picks. 

In August 2022, with just five days notice, Chelsea’s home game against West Ham United was moved from its new Sunday 2pm kick-off time back to a traditional 3pm Saturday kick-off as Chelsea were (predictably) drawn to play Champions League football the following Tuesday night. 

This farce led both sets of fans to accuse the Premier League and its broadcasters of treating supporters with “complete contempt”.

Fast-forward to October and Stamford Bridge was again the centre of controversy, this time with the visit of Manchester United. Bizarrely selected for broadcast in July without a kick-off time, it wasn’t until two weeks beforehand that a kick-off time was finally confirmed.

Chelsea Supporters’ Trust described the scheduling of the game, or lack thereof, as “unacceptable and deeply irresponsible”. London’s Metropolitan Police originally deemed the game too high risk and would not agree to police the fixture until it was moved.

Eventually a compromise was reached, cutting Manchester United’s away allocation by 624 down to 2370 (from around 3000) despite away tickets having already been sold, travel arranged and accommodation booked.

Manchester United Supporters’ Trust sought advice on behalf of fans left out of pocket and considered legal action saying the saga set a  “terrible precedent which could have easily been avoided”.

The disruption wasn’t contained to just these two clubs however, with Newcastle United’s visit to Tottenham Hotspur being moved by 24 hours to the Sunday evening kick-off to accommodate both games in the weekend’s broadcast schedule.

All the while supporters were caught in the middle, unable to book travel and time off work to get to games with leagues, broadcasters and the police all passing the buck.

2023-24

This season we’re already seeing conditional picks becoming part of the Premier League’s routine broadcast selections. 

For August and September, two fixtures (and four sets of supporters) are at risk of disruption. On Saturday 16th September, Arsenal’s trip to Goodison Park to play Everton has been selected by Sky Sports for a 5.30pm kick-off but it is at a high risk of being moved again due to the Champions League draw.

Likewise, Brentford’s away fixture at St James’ Park to play Newcastle United has been selected by the same broadcaster for a late Sunday kick-off at 4.30pm on 17th September. 

With the Champions League group stage draw not taking place until August 31st fans are left hanging on – unable to be sure of their fixtures only 16 or 17 days before the games are due to take place.

Elsewhere Luton Town v West Ham United has been picked for an 8pm kick-off on Friday 1st September but it will be moved should the Hatters have to play a League Cup tie on the Wednesday beforehand – and that’s dependent on who they draw. 

What does the FSA think?

We’ve raised this problem with leagues, broadcasters and the authorities repeatedly but little progress has been made. We are going to keep banging this drum with them though.

The appetite to protect supporters from the inconvenience imposed on them by TV selections, particularly when weighed up against multi-billion pound broadcasting contracts, is low.

But conditional selections seem like an obvious place to start – a game simply should not be allowed to move more than once for TV. If a game is at risk of being moved twice or more we don’t think it should be eligible for selection – simple as that.

Until such a rule comes into being we all need to watch out for conditional picks.

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