Wednesday 13 December 2017

FSF warns against further changes to Premier League fixture schedule

The Football Supporters' Federation continues to lobby for more consideration over the impact of fixture changes
The Football Supporters' Federation continues to lobby for more consideration over the impact of fixture changes

The Football Supporters' Federation has warned the atmosphere at grounds could be affected should any reported further changes to the Premier League fixture schedule be introduced.

It has been suggested the Premier League has discussed the addition of a 7:45pm slot on Saturday evenings from the 2019-20 season, which would increase the number of live games when the next broadcasting deal is negotiated.

The FSF, though, accepts while "fans are pragmatic and realise games must be broadcast", even more disruption to travel plans could put some off making the journey and so hit the unique atmosphere created in and around the stadium were even fewer matches to kick-off in the traditional slot of 3pm on a Saturday afternoon.

A statement from the FSF read: "Too many games are already broadcast at times which make life difficult for match-going fans, with those having the longest journeys hit especially hard. Broadcasters are reliant on the atmosphere generated by supporters which goes a long, long way to creating their attractive TV 'product'.

"How do empty stands look? Yet broadcasters and the Premier League seem intent on scheduling games at times which are increasingly difficult for fans to get to.

"Fans are pragmatic and realise games must be broadcast. The Kick-Off Times Working Group was set up under the auspices of the FSF and features supporters trusts from Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs.

"They met with BT Sport only a matter of months ago - at no point did BT Sport mention 7.45pm kick offs and the silence from them has been deafening ever since. Now they are reported as being the driving force behind it all.

"Where was the consultation with representative, match-going fans when they had the chance? It isn't good enough."

Sky and BT Sport were awarded the previous three-year domestic broadcasting rights for the Premier League, which is worth £5.14billion.

BT Sport stressed the broadcaster had not made any push towards adding a late Saturday slot when the rights come up for auction again.

A spokesperson for BT said in a statement to the Press Association: "BT Sport did meet with the Kick-Off Times Working Group recently and 7.45pm Saturday kick off times were not discussed. We are not the 'driving force behind it all'.

"Simon Green, head of BT Sport, was recently at the KPMG Football Benchmark event where he was asked about the future of Premier League football and said that the Premier League could always learn from other sports and leagues, including more access and better scheduling going forward. He did not suggest any specific kick-off times, the Premier League and clubs dictate this."

At the end of the 2016/17 campaign, a report produced by members of the Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur Supporters' Trusts reviewed the impact on fans of matches rearranged at the request of broadcasters and those scheduled for midweek slots by the Premier League.

The report and related analysis produced a series of recommendations which were set to be circulated to both the Premier League and broadcasters in advance of schedule meetings with supporters' groups.

Those included a review to increase the minimum notice period of six weeks for Premier League match kick-off time rearrangement, better planning of fixtures involving clubs at opposite ends of the country so as to minimise impact on travelling fans and working with train companies over special services a s well as automatic subsidised travel in a continuation of the Away Supporters Initiative, which saw a ticket price cap of £30

As part of the agreement with regulator Ofcom, the Premier League is set to broadcast at least 190 matches per season in the United Kingdom from 2019/20.

With the current figure of 168 live televised matches per season, the increase will inevitably result in some change.

Press Association Sport understands discussions continue about how that might work, with lots of different options and ideas being considered.

The Premier League will release fixtures for the 2017/18 season at 0900 on Wednesday, which are subject to change depending on selections for live broadcast.

The campaign will start on August 12, with Chelsea aiming to defend their crown while Brighton and Huddersfield are set for their first season in the Premier League along with Sky Bet Championship winners Newcastle.

Because of the 2018 World Cup finals starting in Russia on June 14, next season's final Premier League fixtures will be on Sunday, May 13.

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