By Jason McKeown
Bradford City’s mouth-watering FA Cup first round tie against neighbours Halifax Town will be shown live on BT Sport a week on Sunday, and whilst the £67,500 windfall the Bantams will receive is a huge boost, the dating and timing of the fixture illustrates the very worst of the way in which TV companies treat football supporters.
For whilst a noon kick off 10 miles down the road is no great hardship for City supporters, BT’s decision to play the game at that time – rather than the Monday night slot also available to them – means that Preston North End supporters are greatly inconvenienced. Their trip to non-league team Harvant & Waterloo has been chosen by BT to be screened live on the Monday night, completely ignoring the fact that it is a 532-mile round trip for Preston supporters. Or 4 hours and 17 minutes each way journey time (according to Google maps). The fans who go won’t get home until 3am.
It is scandalous that the two games have been chosen to appear on these respective dates. Whilst a noon kick off on a Sunday would hardly have been helpful to Preston fans either, the Halifax-Bradford City slot was apparently supposed to be scheduled to be shown on TV at 5pm on the Saturday. West Yorkshire Police understandably ruled out the game kicking off at this time, given there may be some needle from both sets of supporters that doesn’t need the added ingredient of people drinking all afternoon.
Why therefore couldn’t BT have swapped around the games, so that Preston travelled to Harvant & Waterloo for a Saturday 5pm kick off? Still a slight inconvenience, but not one that will realistically rule out hundreds of Preston fans from attending, as a Monday evening kick off surely does? For City fans, going to Halifax on a Monday evening would have been a doddle.
Perhaps it suits BT, for whom the scheduled TV slot for the FA Cup game would have clashed with SKY TV’s live showing of QPR vs Manchester City from the Premier League. Put Harvant & Waterloo vs Preston up against that fixture, and it’s obvious which game 99% of TV viewers would choose. BT faced the prospect of launching the new season’s FA Cup coverage to a thinbare audience, whereas being forced to move this game to a Sunday 12pm slot, and then have a Monday evening showing, means there are no rival Sky TV games.
But it’s not just these two fixtures that TV has shifted. Eight FA Cup games have been moved from Saturday to Sunday for the sole purpose of a special edition of BBC’s Final Score, where they will feature live updates – and replays of goals – from these fixtures. It is a strange concept and must be a disappointment for the fans of the teams involved. The BBC may be compensating these clubs, but it is hardly likely to be a lot and the clubs themselves are not benefiting from the exposure of being shown live on TV.
In 1998, then-Bradford City chairman Geoffrey Richmond trialled Sunday football at Valley Parade with disappointing results. Football is supposed to be played at 3pm on Saturdays, not 2pm on Sundays.
All of these moves are not about TV making sure that they make the most of top class, unmissable, audience-of-millions games – it is lower league and non-league clubs in the first round of the FA Cup. TV completely calls the shots these days at the highest level, and it is a rude awakening to watch this behaviour applied to teams for whom actually appearing on the box is still considered a massive deal.
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