Sunday, February 5, 2023

Sky mess with fans but clubs complicit too + Arsecast 376

Morning all, plenty to get through this morning and although the manager’s press conference took place yesterday and there’s team news and such, we’ll begin with the decision yesterday to change the day and time of some of Arsenal’s upcoming games.

TV, of course, makes those decisions and while fixtures in March against West Brom, Sp*rs and Everton are far enough to way (more or less) to not hugely affect people, moving the Leicester game with barely three weeks notice has caused all kinds of problems for Arsenal and Leicester fans.

This has happened primarily because the TV fixtures for February were announced back in December so fans from all sides made their plans. Trains, planes, hotels etc were all booked on the basis of the December announcement. I have to admit I was surprised that this wasn’t a game they’d show on telly, but given that nothing further had been said, I booked flights from Dublin on Wednesday. Yesterday they changed it.

I’ve had so many emails and Tweets from people who have been affected by this. Big fees to change flights; pre-booked and pre-paid hotel rooms that don’t provide refunds; airport express trains; work; child-minding; bringing kids to their first game and making plans around that; trains; work; all of those real life things people have to arrange to come and support their club deemed irrelevant by the broadcasters and the clubs.  It’s not just international fans either, it’s people coming from all over the UK whose plans have been thrown into disarray.

A Premier League spokesman said:

We always seek to give fans a minimum of six weeks’ notice of fixture changes. It is only on extremely rare occasions we don’t meet that aspiration during the normal course of the season.

Except it’s not that rare, is it? It happens with relative frequency throughout the season and it’s something that affects fans of every club. There was one for us last season when a late change moved a Hull game from Saturday to Monday night, long after TV fixtures had been announced, and fans had booked trains. We hear regularly about how kick-off times are shifted and that the last train back home for away fans leaves some time during the second half.

It feels almost reductive to say it, but people who go to games are now an afterthought, and it’s baffling that there isn’t a greater sense of collective amongst fans to deal with issues like this. Leicester fans are planning a protest and maybe it’ll be effective or maybe it won’t, but at least it’s something. If you don’t agree with it, fine. If you don’t think it will make any difference, that’s also fine. But the one thing that’s guaranteed not to effect any change at all is doing nothing.

Football fans, as we know, are an odd bunch. We take joy and pleasure from the unhappiness of others, that’s part and parcel of the game. But on this particular issue, it would surely be to everyone’s benefit if there was some sense of collective. The enemy of my enemy and all that, and more and more the broadcasters are becoming the enemy of match going fans.

The money pumped into the game allows them to ride roughshod over the people who want to go and watch their team, whatever team that is. The money they give the clubs ensures their complicity, and they too have to take some responsibility for this. As the bank balances grow when the TV rights money comes slushing in, there’s never a thought to make the game more affordable. Arsenal announced a ticket price freeze earlier this month, and I don’t think anyone can realistically expect prices to go down, but maybe when it comes to situations like this clubs could think of the fans first, and not the extra money they’ll get as a broadcast fee – which is a drop in the ocean in the context of a season.

The people inconvenienced by this are the ones out truly of pocket, to the tune of hundreds of pounds/euros in some cases, and there’s no concession to them from the clubs involved, the Premier League and certainly not the broadcasters. It makes no difference to them, but for people who have to save and who can’t afford to take those kind of financial hits, it’s a massive thing, and it affects the way people think about the game and their club.

I realise I’m saying this as a ‘part-time’ fan, someone who only gets to a few games a season, so I’m hardly the authoritative voice on this issue. But it’s something that happens far too often for those that go home, or home and away, all season long. Nevertheless, isn’t it time for fan groups of all teams to bridge the divides and come together, and for organisations like the FSF and others to take the lead in highlighting this problem?

The solution, as far as I can see, is really simple. Introduce a minimum 6 week notice period for TV fixtures, after which they simply cannot make any changes to the schedule. If Sky couldn’t see back in December that Arsenal v Leicester was going to be a really tasty one, then perhaps they don’t understand the game at all. That’s it, it’s not complicated, and ultimately clubs have to play a part in this and stand up for the people who buy the tickets, because right now they’re not doing that, and it’s costing their own fans.

We know when it comes to the TV companies it’s a case of he who pays the piper calls the tune, but the piper is a massive twat playing a Phil Collins song, and something has to give.

I did mention team news, but that seems to have gone on a bit so I’ll do it very briefly, and you can read for yourself. There’s good news as Francis Coquelin returns to full training ahead of schedule, and while Alexis Sanchez is expected to play some part against Chelsea, the manager is still kinda cautious about how involved he’s going to be after spending eight weeks out.

Bonus reading this morning, two columns for you: Anam looks at the impact of Joel Campbell in the Tactics Column, while Tim Stillman tries to understand Theo Walcott. Good reading.

Time now for this week’s Arsecast and I’m joined by Rory Smith from The Times to discuss the consistency and reliability of Nacho Monreal, and what his new contract might mean for Kieran Gibbs. We also discuss Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, 10 years of Theo Walcott, and we look ahead to Sunday’s Premier League clash with Chelsea. There’s some TV fixture scheduling stuff, pants based trauma and all the usual waffle.

You can subscribe to the Arsecast on iTunes by clicking here. Or if you want to subscribe directly to the feed URL you can do so too (this is a much better way to do it as you don’t experience the delays from iTunes). To download the Arsecast directly, use the link below the player, and if you are a regular listener via iTunes, if you would be so kind as to leave a review/rating that would be greatly appreciated.


We’ll have all the news throughout the day over on Arseblog News, more from me tomorrow, and happy listening.

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