My first feeling when I read the news regarding a groundbreaking television deal for the EFL coming to Sky Sports was one of delight. Living a two-hour car journey away from the Madejski Stadium, a weekend game is hard enough to reach; a midweek match is nigh impossible, unless I don’t mind watching the sun rise from the M25.
But, what might be good for the individual is not necessarily good for the masses. And, just like Jimmy Hill abolishing the wage cap in the 1960s which led to the astronomical money currently paid to players, this television deal might seem like a good idea to begin with, but the effects ten or twenty years down the line could lead to the ruination of many smaller clubs.
There is a reason that there is no televised football at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon in the United Kingdom. Back in the sixties (coincidentally around the same time of Hill’s successful campaign against wage caps), it was deemed that showing televised matches on a Saturday afternoon would jeopardise attendances to those matches. Therefore a ban was made, on televising any live football between 2:45 PM and 5:15 PM on a Saturday afternoon within the UK. And, while this restriction has certainly benefited the top two tiers of English football ever since, the new deal could easily dismantle their good work.
It may not affect Championship clubs as much, given that bonuses such as parachute payments and larger transfer fees mean that a dip in ticket sales won’t necessarily push a more established side to the brink of bankruptcy. But those in the third and fourth tiers of English football, smaller, local sides who rely on ticket sales as one of their main sources of revenue, will certainly feel the impact, if not straight away then across the next five years as the deal progresses.
And it’s not just the ticket sales which the club lose. The ‘matchday experience’ turns every football club across the land into a sports-centric shopping mall, where the actual ninety minutes of football sometimes pales into insignificance compared to the other activities on offer. Clubs make money from every facet of their existence, including a couple of quid per programme, overpriced food and drink options within the stadium, and the all-important shirt sales that help balance their books. The fans who choose to watch at home will forgo the programme purchase and instead read one of many match previews on the internet; they will save the tenner a pie and beer will cost them at their local club for a homemade spaghetti bolognese. And they can dress how they want to to attend a game on the television; if it’s anything like me, they will probably be clothes you wouldn’t step out of your house in!
Finally, there is also the significance a midweek night plays on school and work for children and adults respectively. Going to a football match doesn’t just take up ninety minutes of your evening, even if you live a few doors down from the stadium. The overall time spent on travelling can be anything from half an hour to a few hours stuck in a traffic jam. There will be parents who would much prefer to avoid the hassle and remain at home with their children. Even if the weather is good.
I won’t lie that it’ll make life easier for me and many others to flick my television on on a Tuesday evening to watch Reading play. But the longer term impacts of this decision will be detrimental to the sustainability of the Football League itself.