The Premier League claims that fans are the lifeblood of the game and it would be nothing without them. However, some of their actions make you wonder if they really mean that. Mega TV deals mean the Premier League has prioritized the broadcasters at the expense of fans. Despite the influx of enormous amounts of money, already sky-high ticket prices continue to rise, making it more cost-prohibitive to attend a match. Moreover, matches are routinely rescheduled for the sake of TV broadcasts, oftentimes after tickets to the match have already sold out, thus making it difficult to confirm travel arrangements, or sometimes meaning those who bought a ticket can no longer attend the match.
An example: a friend of mine here in the States who also supports Arsenal thought he’d finally have the opportunity to watch the Gunners play in person during a short layover in London on the way to a business trip in Ireland. He joined as a member and bought a ticket for the Arsenal-West Brom match scheduled for May 3. Four days later, it was announced that due to TV, the match had be rescheduled to May 4. That meant he’d either have to shell out an extra $500 to change his flight and accommodations, or forgo the match after having gone through all that effort just to secure a ticket.
The latest middle finger shown to fans, and one that was especially egregious, was Sky Sports deciding on April 11 to move Arsenal’s match away to Hull City from Saturday to Sunday a mere eight days before the match was to take place! Sky did this because Chelsea was drawn to play away to Atletico Madrid this past Tuesday in the Champions League, so they swapped the game times of Hull-Arsenal and Chelsea-Sunderland, which was scheduled to be played on Sunday April 20.
As an Arsenal supporter living in California, I was none too pleased to hear of this scheduling change, and it was about more than Arsenal’s recent string of early away kickoff debacles (1-5 at Liverpool, 0-6 at Chelsea, 0-3 at Everton). This meant that I would lose three hours of sleep and instead have to wake up earlier for a 6:00 am kickoff here in the Pacific Time zone (on the bright side, it’s still better than those obscenely early 4:45 Saturday morning kickoffs). However, this inconvenience to me was nothing compared to that experienced by those Arsenal fans traveling to Hull for the match. No doubt they had made travel arrangements several weeks ago anticipating a Saturday evening match. Besides the cost of the match ticket itself, they had to shell out money out of pocket for train tickets and accommodations. Those fans with kids probably had to make special arrangements for them to be looked after too. Not to mention, people had also most likely already made plans for Easter Sunday. And now, with the match eight days away, those plans all went out the window and they were stuck scrambling to make new arrangements at the last minute, forced to spend even more out of pocket as prices would be sky-high so close to the date. I’m guessing many of them had to shell out at least an extra few hundred quid when it was all said and done. As of yet, there are no indications the fans will be able to get any recompense for additional travel expenses due to Sky’s last minute scheduling change. Quite simply, fans had a choice: accept the extra cost and inconvenience to follow the team they love, or stay home and watch their team play…on Sky, the entity who screwed them in the first place.
It’s bad enough that TV can dictate the rescheduling of matches as late as a month out. But this rescheduling of a match with only eight days’ notice is a new low and absolutely ridiculous. It’s fine that the Chelsea-Sunderland match had to be rescheduled due to Chelsea’s Champions League involvement, but why did the Hull City-Arsenal match have to be moved as well when neither side was involved? While watching the match on TV, I was glad to hear the commentator acknowledge this situation and what the traveling Arsenal fans had to go through just to be there. If nothing else, he gave those fans a voice by bringing attention to this. I may have singled out the plight of Arsenal fans here, but the club they support is irrelevant. This isn’t about fans of one club or another. This is about all fans. This could’ve happened to anyone, and I would not be surprised to see it to happen again now that the precedent has been set.
It’s an absolute shame that the FA and Premier League are being held hostage by TV companies and making these decisions for their good rather than for the good of the fans. The sad thing is, they know they can get away with it because no matter what decisions they make, fans will still continue to shell out money to follow and support their team. They can just sit back and take advantage of that passion and fandom, with little fear of consequence as fans are ultimately powerless and have no say when it comes to these sorts of decisions made by the higher-ups.
In contrast, other leagues such as the Bundesliga, have a reputation for being more fan-friendly. Bayern Munich even subsidized the ticket cost for their fans traveling to the Emirates for their Champion’s League tie against Arsenal ”as a small thank you for the fantastic support of our supporters during 2013” and specifically noting that the loyalty of their away fans “is not only extremely time-consuming, but moreover makes a big dent in the supporters’ wallets.” Bayern’s gesture may have been a small one, but against the backdrop of other clubs and leagues squeezing money out of fans, it was extremely classy. More clubs need to follow Bayern’s lead and acknowledge the importance of their fans. It’s time for fans to be respected, and not have their support taken for granted.