Football is back. At least that is what Sky would have you believe as the Premier League in England re-started. In fact, football has hardly been away as Euro 2016, the now depressingly regular early European Qualifiers, and the Betfred Cup proved.
In England, the Champions Leicester City at the “shambles” that is newly promoted Hull City was first of an astonishing 126 EPL games on the Sky TV slate this season. The narrative of the unexpected champions facing a side that has seen a hasty reshuffle of management and players was a good way to start. Hull promptly pulled off the first surprise of the season with a win which less than unexpectedly prompted the first chorus of “its best league in the world”.
Given what Sky have paid for the rights to the 126 games there will be endless hype, some but just like previous seasons not all of it will be merited. Their coverage remains first class, a largely listenable array of presenters, commentators, and pundits. The vast sums) but the amount paid for these games (around £11 million per EPL game) is jaw-dropping. Sky have been actively reducing their own costs where they can but increases to subscriptions will be higher than many will find palatable over the next three years.
I enjoy the EPL but will be picky about the actual games I watch. I have to confess that the depressing part of the EPL for me is not the endless hype but the devaluing of winning the league. Being somewhere, anywhere, in the top four and its access to the Champions League seems more important that actually winning the title.
The possibility that 16/32 teams in the group stages from 2018/19 will come from four automatic entries from the big four European leagues is an unpleasant thought but is one for another day.
Sky continues to set the gold standard for football coverage. An unintended benefit of their innovation and ground-breaking coverage has been that other broadcasters have had to lift their own output and the quality of coverage in the UK is extremely good.
As part of Sky’s package, they have 10 Friday Night Premier League games which will further fuel fans unhappiness at the scheduling of games. As a case in point, this Friday starts with Manchester United v Southampton.
One resolution this year should be for no-one to complain about inconvenient kick-off times and travel plans for fans – it is an unpalatable and ugly truth that basically no-one cares. Like trying to nail jelly to a tree, it is both pointless and irritating.
This may sound harsh but I can assure you my sympathies lie with the travelling supporters. The journeys in Scotland for badly scheduled games may be fewer and involve fewer miles than those in England but such games are a fact of life.
Radio coverage, newspaper inches, tweets etc. outlining the early starts, nightmare journeys and cost are inconsequential. Both in Scotland and England the Leagues do the TV deals. The money paid makes TV king and their schedule comes first, second and third. The Clubs are the Leagues and they have shown where their priority lies– TV money trumps turnstile count.
While the EPL remains incredibly popular a few empty seats may not be a problem but games need atmosphere and competitions like the Europa League and FA Cup in England have shown fans not always to go to games.
One of the finest people I have had the pleasure to know was the late Bob Crampsey. You always felt better for spending time in his company and talking football with him was a joy I miss to this day. Bob’s theory regarding television and crowds was that one day, tickets to football games would be given away free to ensure full stadiums which look good for television coverage.
We may think that we are a way away from that, but this season in Spain sides could be fined if empty parts of their stadium are visible on-screen. Regulations have been introduced to force clubs to make fans sit in certain parts of the arena which are picked up by cameras.
Is the Spanish initiative something that will spread ?
It is certainly possible if it gives the Television coverage the look it requires.
Written by commentator Paul Mitchell | Published in Issue Five of FITBA