Is Friday Night Football anything more than a money-making tool for broadcasters?
Last Saturday, the most anticipated Premier League season for years (although that’s what we say every year) made an overdue return, and to be quite honest, what an anti-climax it was, with reigning champions Leicester City going down two goals to one against an extremely depleted Hull City team. Gary Lineker presenting Match of the Day in his pants was probably the only true highlight of Saturday, with the fixtures only being able to be described as dour. But I digress.
The purpose of this piece is to discuss the arrival of Sky Sports’ new addition to their footballing broadcasts; ‘Friday Night Football’, and it’s possible impacts. Now, as a League Two fan, who dabbles into the depths of non-league on a regular basis too, the fact that the Sky Sports corporate steamroller have ventured into a Friday night prime time slot as part of their £8 billion TV deals means very little to me, and quite honestly I was unaware of it happening until very recently. It has no bearing whatsoever on my attendances at Wycombe Wanderers games, and its introduction will purely give me the option of watching a Premier League game at home or in the pub on a Friday night if I wish to do so. However, for many, the introduction of ‘Friday Night Football’ will have consequences – some positive, and some negative.
The clear winners here, are without a doubt the broadcasters. Another box has well and truly been ticked. They have managed to secure Premier League football on a Friday, meaning effectively it could mean that we could see the stars of the Premier League, and the likes of Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher gracing our screens every day between Friday and Monday – another nail in the coffin away from the old school tradition of purely having games on a Saturday at 3pm and the odd few on a Tuesday night.
But like I’ve alluded to before, the giants of the corporate sports world (Sky and BT) care very little about fans, rather customers and viewing figures, and alongside this – lining their pockets with hard cash. If Friday Night Football is a success, which I’m predicting it will be – with the likes of Rachel Riley and Jeff Stelling involved – it could prove to be an extremely profitable venture. Obviously the arrival of Friday Night Football will also go down well with those who are Sky viewers, another opportunity to savour the delight of one of the most elite leagues on the planet – and with the prospect of more televised football it will likely mean more Sky Sports subscription purchases – another profitable tributary in the ever flowing monetary stream that is Sky Sports.
Another benefactor of the new Friday fixtures are pubs. As someone who has worked many a Friday night behind the bar I know that Friday is more often than not the busiest night of the week, the added incentive of football being televised is only going to see an influx in the amount of people visiting their local. Sky Sports win in terms of exposure and pubs buying the rights to show these extra games.
Now, I fully appreciate the likes of BT Sport and Sky Sports and their ease of use, the users ability to discover new sports and their ever growing influence on sporting culture, however, the introduction of Friday Night Football could prove to be extremely detrimental to both football fans who regularly attend matches, and smaller league and non-league clubs who already live in the shadows of the superstar teams of the Premier League.
Although the Premier League have recognised the extortionate ticket prices and have therefore capped away tickets to a maximum of £30, the concern is logistics when it comes to these Friday night matches – a potential problem for away and home fans, alike. Take Friday night, for example, as Southampton traveled to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United, an 8pm kick off. A fan driving from Southampton would take on average three and half hours to arrive at the home of Manchester United, meaning your Average Joe working a 9-5 weekday job hasn’t got a hope in hell of attending the match. Whereas, if the fixture was played on a Saturday they would more than likely be able to take the trip.
In addition to this public transport is far from trustworthy, or frequent for that matter, with trains available after evening matches, especially on a Friday. It would be a different story if television money acquired by clubs from the broadcaster was used to help out their fans that evidently care for the club, but obviously this feeling isn’t a mutual one. This means fans could become alienated from their club, and attendances could prove to suffer because of this – Sky Sports win again.
Away from the glitz and glamour of the Premier League in the ever so different world of the Football League and more so non-league there are concerns that the introduction of football on a Friday could see attendances continue to fall. Already faced by Tuesday night televised Champions League matches, some non-league clubs, such as Wealdstone and Oxford City who play in the National League South have begun moving fixtures from a Tuesday to a Monday night, as attendances have plummeted with the obsession regarding the biggest club competition in Europe continuing to grow. It could indeed prove to be beneficial with football fans looking for another local club to support on a Saturday. However, time will very much tell.
By no means has this piece been a tirade against Sky Sports, merely a way of analysing the effects of the introduction of Friday Night Football. However, what is clear to me is that we’ve entered into a new realm of televised football, in which money well and truly talks, with sports channels getting preference over football fans. Evidently, not everybody is happy about its introduction. However, what is clear is that it has arrived, and it’s here to stay.
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