Since SKY entered the football arena in the transmission of LIVE football games, fans supporting their Premiership heroes have become accustomed to having their traditional Saturday football game being changed to either a Sunday or Monday event. Not much fuss has been made by the fans who follow their Premiership heroes in having their weekend altered, but when a minimum of a quarter of a million pounds enters the club’s bank account for just one game, the cynical fan amongst us doesn’t really care. But do they?
In an era when the so called ‘beautiful’ game has changed dramatically in more ways than one, prior to the early 1990’s previous generations were brought up watching recorded highlights on Saturday night’s ‘Match of the Day’, or ‘The Big Match’ on Sunday afternoon, with Saturday afternoon for the fans between the months of August through to May a day to look forward to and watch their team. Apart from when the fixture lists regularly included Tuesday night games following the advent of floodlighting, the only other occasion Swans matches have been switched to a Friday night have been when the Wales Rugby team have been playing, especially during the early/mid-1970’s when attendances at the Vetch Field hovered around the 2500-3000 mark. Although there were occasional Sunday matches in the early 1970’s at the Vetch Field, but the reason they were played was because of a Government restriction on the use of floodlights because of a nationwide energy crisis.
Many Swans fans have made public their opinions regarding the renewing of season tickets because of the diminishing number of Saturday fixtures at the Liberty Stadium.
One wonders whether that reason is actually because of personal shift working and being unable to change shift patterns in time, a difficulty in travelling to home matches during the week, or just the fact that fans enjoy following their team on a Saturday afternoon coupled with all the social events before and after the game, something the fans find difficult to enjoy in the midweek.
As previously mentioned, supporters of Premiership teams have had to get used to having their fixtures changed to suit the SKY cameras, and over the years with the increased popularity and coverage of the game by SKY, rewards have been exceedingly handsome. On one particular Saturday during the early weeks of October this season, just 2 Premiership games were played, with the remainder played the next day, as well as a live game on the Monday. Gary Linneker, the Saturday night host of Match of the Day on that particular occasion really earned his money dragging out the show to cover highlights from just two games during the entire length of the programme.
Following on from the last television contract negotiations to screen LIVE football matches, Championship sides, and to a much lesser degree, lower league and non-league clubs have regularly been screened via one television company or other, but the financial returns to the clubs outside the Premiership pale into insignificance compared to money entering the Premiership club’s bank accounts, although Championship sides can accumulate a large return in comparison to what they would have had a few seasons ago, especially when even some of the less glamorous clubs like Barnsley, Burnley and Colchester United enjoy 3-4 LIVE games during the season.
Recently, the latest change of fixtures saw the Swans having to play Gillingham on the Friday night, bringing yet another match from the Saturday forward to accommodate this time the Ospreys, who were playing an EDF cup tie against London Irish at the Liberty Stadium on the Sunday. The argument placed was that there was insufficient time to turn around the pitch for rugby use in 24 hours, hence the Swans game being brought forward to the Friday night. Yet, in the previous two seasons at the Liberty Stadium there have been numerous occasions when the Swans have played 24 hours after an Ospreys game. So, does it take longer to mark out a rugby pitch than a football pitch, change the posts and also take the nets down!!
Just prior to the start of the season when both the Swans and Ospreys fixtures were made public, the Swans games which clashed with a Rugby International and the Ospreys were brought forward, unlike the previous two seasons when the Swans played after the Ospreys had played at the stadium. But with the EDF cup games being made public sometime after the start of this season, shouldn’t the organisers of the competition have consulted with the Swans club officials with regards to the Swans home games, to prevent any fixtures being changed once more. With the Swans playing at Yeovil last weekend, the Ospreys also had an away EDF tie at Worcester. Why couldn’t they have been told to play a home game that weekend, instead of the following week when the Swans ALREADY had a home fixture.
From the first home Saturday of the season fixture against Nottingham Forest, up to the Xmas period just two other games(Doncaster and Brighton) have been played on a Saturday, it would have been three but for the unfortunate circumstances regarding young Maidens of Hartlepool for the game to be postponed. The Huddersfield game in mid November has been brought forward because of the Wales football side playing the Republic of Ireland in Cardiff.
Make no mistake about it, the previous three seasons have produced the best spell financially for the club for a long, long time, but when the ‘bubble’ does burst and the new stadium factor wears off, the finances of the football club will become affected as fans will not tolerate the fixture changes when there is no success to be had, and the sale of season tickets will also diminish. The supposed tri-partheid agreement involved at the stadium between the football, rugby and council arguably decide on what games get played and when, but with spectators going through the turnstiles far greater in football than the rugby side, one would have thought that more consideration would have been placed on the Swans side rather than the rugby. Unfortunately, in comparison with the Swans, far more rugby matches get LIVE viewing, and until the Swans attain a higher level of the game, the same problem will persist. Should the Swans achieve promotion to the Championship it will be interesting to see then who dictates which code will be played to suit which television channel.
I would think that fans would also be interested in finding out what actual finances are being paid by the both codes as far as rent is concerned to Stadco for the use of the stadium on matchdays, especially when one considers, apart from two particular rugby games at the stadium which drew large attendances, the VAST number of fans going through the turnstiles have been in support of the football club rather than the rugby team. If it were not for the large subsidies awarded to the four regional rugby clubs by the WRU, it would take some difficulty in working out how the Ospreys can continue to keep their heads above water on average attendances of approximately 7,700, in comparison to the supposed 12,000 average attendance required to keep the football club in the black. This can also be reflected in the catering at the stadium as the larger attendances in football would be translated into higher profits via the catering contractors through to the council. So is there a case that the Swans provide a larger slice of the cake to meet the annual running costs of the stadium, yet take second place in dictating when they play their matches.
At this particular moment for the football club there is no downturn in sight as far as a lack of success is concerned, and the ‘floating’ supporter will continue to support the Swans for particular matches. But when success falls away for the Swans, and crowds diminish, is it only then that the penny will drop with the club’s Directors who deal with Stadco, because at the moment despite the mumblings about the Ospreys getting preferential treatment, the rugby code continues to dictate policy inside the stadium as and when it suits them.