‘football supporters have now been completely ostracised from the very game they are often reminded they are the ‘lifeblood’ of’
‘As players, we were the last people to be consulted about Project Restart and that is because of where we fall in football’s order of priority,” said Aston Villa centre-back Tyrone Mings, in his interview with the Daily Mail this weekend.
Well, that’s not entirely true, Mr Mings…
‘We can’t continue the league without supporters in stadiums’, wasn’t exactly the first thought that came across the minds of anybody employed by the Premier League or Sky Sports in the past couple of months.
In fact, it’s a safe bet that nobody would have thought it.
With the rest of the 2019/20 season being played behind closed doors, football supporters have now been completely ostracised from the very game they are often reminded they are the ‘lifeblood’ of.
Let’s not forget, in the case of season ticket holders and Sky Sports subscribers, all these football fans have paid for those games in advance, so you’d have thought such stakeholders would have at least been contacted out of courtesy, when it came out to what happened next for the 2019/20.
For the record, there has been next to no correspondence from the football authorities in the past couple of months with supporter groups, to ask how they feel about the season continuing or playing matches without supporters present. Only this week, behind the scenes, have the Premier League asked the Football Supporters Association to get a litmus test of feeling amongst fans to football in these Covid-19 times.
With the last rise in TV rights deals to screen Premier League football, meaning Premier League clubs could let fans in for free and be no worse off, it is stating the obvious to say TV money rules the roost in England’s top tier, leaving gate receipts as an added bonus.
If football wasn’t a televised sport, the 2019/20 Premier League season would have been declared suspended for good, back in March.
As Mings stated ‘Project Restart is financially driven’, any notions that the return of football was partly to lift the nation’s spirit is pure double speak. Although, in what would normally be the close season for football, I’m sure people will welcome an alternative to exhausted Netflix and Amazon Prime menus for entertainment.
Of course the pandemic is compromising life in many ways, but from a business point of view, there’s so much money at stake in the Premier League – allegedly £750m in terms of just TV rights that needed fulfilling, before you consider other commercial deals and sponsorships – that the show was always going to go on, once the lockdown started to ease.
Still, when Aston Villa kick-off the Premier League season again on June 17th, it still won’t be possible for people to visit a barbers or hairdressers due to the current lockdown rules.
There’s no wonder some footballers have reservations about returning now, before the rest of society has got the green light to be up and running.
With fans even more dependent on television to see games, you could argue that Sky Sports now have football fans exactly where they want them. Sky subscriptions will potentially rise. They’ll certainly make up on the fact they had to pause subscriptions over the past few weeks due to the lack of sport.
Interestingly, fans have been used as pawns to justify a rebate from clubs to broadcasters. The likes of Sky Sports had asked that a sum of around £330m be returned due to the disruption of the season and the drop in quality of TV product due to the absence of fans.
While clubs have apparently agreed to repay the sum over two years, will match-going fans get a discount on Sky packages, since their absence from games has helped Sky gain the rebate sum? Of course not.
Alas, in this pandemic, there was always going to be commercial winners and losers, but the match-going fan always seems to end up at the bottom of the pile.
The armchair and overseas fan though will at least benefit in the short-term, although early indications from televised ‘ghost games’ in the Bundesliga is the TV product is lacking somewhat without genuine atmosphere in stadiums. You can overdub all the FIFA game commentary you want over live games, it’s just not the same.
No doubt fans watching on television will be encouraged to post ‘at-home limbs’ on social media in response to goals too.
The potential for cringe is limitless.
While the product maybe diluted though, it’ll have more widespread availability than ever before.
For the first time in the England, games will be able for screening at 3pm on a Saturday. Weekend fixtures will take place at 8pm on Friday, 12.30pm, 3pm, 5.30pm and 8pm on Saturday, 12pm, 2pm, 4.30pm and 7pm on Sunday and 8pm on Monday.
Midweek rounds will see games kicking-off at 6pm and 8pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
All of the 92 remaining matches in the season will be screened live on TV. The majority of games will be on Sky and BT Sport, but Amazon will also stream games and, in another first, the BBC will show four Premier League matches live.
The government at least have realised there is a moral situation underlining supporters being kept out of stadiums and have pushed to make as many games as possible free to air. As well as the BBC games, in addition to Sky’s 39 live games for subscribers, they’ll have a further 25 games available more widely via Sky’s free-to-air ‘Pick’ Channel and simulcast on Sky Sports.
If all government protocols are passed, the TV bonanza will begin in just over two weeks time, with Villa, one of the four teams playing first to make up their game in hand. With the omnipresent threat of a second wave of the virus, it’ll be in Villa’s interest to win that opening game against Sheffield United, just in case the season was to cease again and then have its outcome decided on some Points Per Game formula.
The restart and the bombardment of TV games will certainly be an unprecedented event and something that social media especially will be hard at work hyping. Whether it is ethical or not, in the current pandemic climate, will soon be forgotten.
Let’s just hope it’s not a watershed moment for the football authorities and TV companies to further devalue the stock of match-going supporters in the future.