Last Tuesday (19th January) Sky Sports announced that the Southend United v Sheffield United game was being moved for television coverage; from a much anticipated Easter Monday 3:00 kick off to two days later and a 7:45 kick off on the Wednesday.
In one fail swoop hundreds of fans were inconvenienced and many were left out of pocket. An Easter Bank Holiday Weekend date had meant that many fans had planned weekend trips or family breaks incorporating the match. 9/10 weeks notice might seem acceptable, in a world where the television companies attempt to work to 6 weeks notice (still inadequate and sometimes they can't even manage to that, ask Leicester or Arsenal fans) and as has been pointed out "Fixtures are subject to change". In this instance it is worth noting a few other factors:
- A Bank Holiday weekend encourages many fans to travel who wouldn't normally travel such a distance. The extra time off work allowing family meet-ups and a journey back that doesn't end in the early hours of the morning and another day/morning off work out of annual leave entitlements. We have received an email from a German Blade who was planning a trip over with his family, combining it with an opportunity to meet up with friends in the South, those plans now abandoned.
- The distance involved. This is not some hour long drive away. Fans will struggle to make a rearranged date as it will necessitate at the very least a half day off work on the Wednesday and probably the same on the Thursday. More if you are reliant on the train as there is no way of returning on the Wednesday evening. The additional expense, employer negotiation and hassle will deter many.
We wonder whether Sky Sports don't mind their televised spectacles played out in front of half empty stadiums, or with minimal away support, meaning games have little atmosphere. Southend can probably expect away ticket sales to be more than halved by the game being televised. This is just one of many examples of football fans being inconvenienced that have seen clubs, fans and supporter organisations speak out. In relative terms some commentators have suggested we have it easy, maybe so, but it doesn't make it right. #TheBladesBigSkyBill idea has gained momentum in recent days, with social media trending, coverage in the local paper, radio and national press.
Radio Sheffield - http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03dwnf5
Radio Sheffield - http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03dwnhc
The News Hub (Martin Cloake) - https://www.the-newshub.com/football/tensions-rise-in-footballs-tv-times
The Fiver (The Guardian) - http://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/jan/22/the-fiver-arsenal-chelsea-and-fixture-shamblings
Sheffield Live TV - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttlBt4Bq1Y4
Others are awaiting issue of the bill today. Supporters organisations, former players and sports journalists have openly supported the principle of our claim. Blades manager Nigel Adkins has openly criticised the switch and sympathised with the fans. So today we issue the bill to Sky comprising the irrecoverable costs of Blades fans who planned to attend the game.
The bill totals £7,271.50, representing committed rail fares, hotels, flights, additional time off work, taxi fares (in the absence of a pre-arranged lift agreed for the original fixture) and concert tickets bought for the Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott gig at Southend Pavilion on the Sunday night (not a concert anyone in Sheffield would think about popping to, unless there was another reason to be 200 miles away - we are sure fellow Blades fan Paul will not be offended by that!). We have names and in most cases addresses of people making the claim and can produce this if required.We are also aware that many other Blades fans have been more fortunate with their bookings, but have received support in our campaign all the same. This amount is less than £3,000 below the fee Sheffield United receive as the away team for this fixture, an important point of note and hopefully helps shatter the misconception that football clubs make handsomely from television coverage.
We publicly issue this bill and in doing so ask Sky not to recompense the fans affected but, as a goodwill gesture, donate the equivalent amount to a local charity that will be selected by United supporters' choice in the coming days. Blades fans can vote for a local charity by clicking on the link https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/G7CDPRY .
We do this asking Sky to consider more fully the views and commitments of, and the impact on supporters when they make such a fixture switch:
- To look at the timing of the original game and the distances away fans are travelling before rescheduling.
- To consider that in order to obtain the best rail and (for longer trips) hotel prices, fans are having to commit to tickets far in advance of the fixture, particularly when travel is on bank holiday weekends when services may be limited. A six week window is insufficient and inadequate.
- To consider the frequency and regularity of a club's fixtures are selected. Leeds matches being selected 13 times is massively inconvenient for Leeds fans and it can't be viewed as encouraging an upturn in Sky Sports subscriptions.
- To consider a fund being provided to clubs outside the Premier League which enables them to fund/support away fans travel in these circumstances or subsidise travel on rearranged dates midweek when the cost of attending is more than just the travel, it is time off work.
As Jock Stein said "Football without fans is nothing", a statement that seems to be lost in the current footballing world where ticket prices rise, fixture changes and a lack of care or thought for fan welfare permeate the decisions of administrators and television companies. There is real and present danger that fans will increasingly become emotionally and financially disenfranchised from the game. This cannot be helpful for clubs, leagues or media rights holders and it needs to change.
Many Thanks and Up the Blades!