A Game For The Fans. Really?

23 Apr 2024

In Off The Post
The following article has been written by one of our Trust members.  They are the opinions of that person and not necessarily those of Blues Trust.  Would you like to contribute a discussion point of your own about Birmingham City Football Club?  If so, we would be delighted to hear from you.

Over the past week we have seen two significant announcements regarding important aspects of the game. Both have far reaching implications for many clubs, and for fans in particular.

The first is the announcement that there will no longer be FA Cup replays from the 2024/25 season. The driving force behind this is, apparently, the upcoming change in the format of the Champions League. The change means that those clubs which qualify for the competition will need to fit in 8 group games rather than 6.

It seems the decision was taken by the FA and Premier League, although Premier League decision making relies on 14 clubs to approve a rule change so this would appear to be an FA led change. Although it is not hard to see it having being driven by the 6 or 7 wealthy clubs who dominate the Premier League and which, generally, are the ones which qualify for the Champions League. How much resistance the FA put up is open to question.

The question I ask is what right do those clubs have to promote a decision that imposes a major change on the rest of the EPL/EFL? And particularly so when the long established format of a competition is of interest to the rest of the EPL/EFL clubs which form by far the majority of participants?

In my view the answer is greed and power. Replays have the capacity to benefit non-League clubs and those lower down the EFL pyramid. These are the same clubs, by the way, which the EPL is steadfastly refusing to help by failing to agree a financial deal which would enable money to flow down through the leagues.

 If playing replays, which would benefit smaller clubs, is so onerous for Champions League qualifying clubs, perhaps they should consider not entering the FA Cup in seasons when they are playing in Europe? After all, Europe is evidently where they make considerable money and is obviously their priority. That would avoid the apparent fixture congestion for those very few clubs who play in Europe, and still give smaller clubs the chance of a decent payday if they earn an away replay at a Premier League club.

Sadly, it’s unlikely to happen of course because football’s governing bodies appear too weak to effectively challenge the big clubs.

The second announcement was the new TV deal signed, with much fanfare, by the EFL. The deal is with Sky Sports and runs for five years. It means that over 1000 EFL fixtures will be shown live each season, and as a consequence Blues have already confirmed that the club’s streaming service will cease to offer domestic live video coverage of EFL matches.

The nature of the deal is very significant for the scheduling of matches.

When the EFL announce the fixtures for the next season, as they will be doing again in June, the date usually shown for all matches, except midweek games, is the Saturday date. But, going forward, this will be misleading if it continues because the new deal allows for games to be played on any one of Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday of the specified weekend, depending on what the TV broadcasters dictate. Kick off times will vary between 12.00noon and 8pm.

Supporters need to be aware of this and particularly those, like me, who commit to a season ticket.

The lifeblood of football is the fans and especially those who attend matches. The eerie silence of matches televised during Covid, with no supporters in attendance, brought this home loud (or quiet?) and clear. That is not to denigrate those supporters who cannot attend games because of distance, ill-health, age and so on.

Although there is a body of opinion that changing dates or times of games at the behest of TV companies is the new world, and fans should just deal with it, this demonstrates an attitude where basically clubs are willing to sacrifice themselves to the God of TV money, with little consideration of the inconvenience to their fans. While some clubs may consider an ad hoc form of recompensing fans who have paid for a game they thought was going to be on one date, but can no longer attend because it has changed, they certainly don’t seem prepared to put any of their millions of pounds of extra TV money towards a formal policy of reimbursement.

The revised rule regarding FA Cup replays demonstrates an imbalance of power whereby those most significantly affected are not consulted and have no method of preventing change which is against their interests. The same is true with the televising of games in England on days and at times that are inconvenient to fans. The clubs can simply ride roughshod over the wishes of supporters in chasing their own financial enrichment and will do so with impunity.

Compare this with the situation in Germany where, because of the 50+1 ownership model, supporters have a much greater say in the running of their clubs. And to the extent that if they disagree strongly enough with proposals made by their owners, they can veto them.

By way of example, match-going supporters in Germany were not impressed when Monday night games were introduced for television purposes in 2017. They were unhappy that Monday night matches involved taking extra days off work and travelling large distances at unsociable hours. The protests which followed successfully brought them to an end when the new TV deal was negotiated early in 2020.

Thilo Danielsmeyer, a leading figure of the Dortmund Fan Project, said at the time “Football needs to decide what its fans are worth. How much? We’ll see in the next few years.”

In my view it is a quote which English football authorities and club owners would do well to heed.


Richard Stanley

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