Supporters’ groups at 15 of the 20 Premier League clubs, backed by the Football Supporters’ Federation, have expressed concern over the impact on fans after the fixtures for the 2017/18 season were announced this morning (Wednesday).
A statement issued alongside analysis of the fixture list says: “Packed stadiums and a vibrant atmosphere are key parts of the ‘product’ the Premier League sells to broadcasters. But anti-social kick-off times, midweek journeys the length of the country when no public transport is available and short notice rearrangements for TV purposes are making it increasingly difficult for fans to get to games.”
Drawing up the fixture list is a complex business. Rival clubs in the same areas cannot play at home on the same day, and a host of other events also have to be taken into account. Fans understand this, but have asked the Premier League to try and avoid situations such as the ones which, this season, send Burnley fans on a 570-mile round trip to Bournemouth on a Tuesday night in November, or Bournemouth fans on a 500-mile round trip to Manchester on a Tuesday in mid-December.
Those two fixtures are among many that present fans with significant challenges this year. North east-based Newcastle United fans who travel to all five away games during a busy period between 25 November and 1st January will cover a total of 2,484 miles. And 10 sets of match-going supporters will have to make round trips totalling in excess of more than 1,500 miles in that period.
READ MORE: Premier League week-by-week fixtures guide
Kat Law, co-chair of the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust and one of the fan reps on the Kick Off Times Working Group, said: “We are frequently reminded of the complexities in compiling the fixture list and we are conscious that every team has to play each other twice across a season. However, a Saturday afternoon trip from Burnley to Bournemouth is infinitely more convenient and more accessible for travelling fans than that same trip on a Tuesday evening in December. Throughout our recent dialogue with the Premier League, we have consistently asked for more consideration for match-going fans when scheduling midweek rounds of fixtures. It is very clear there is still quite some way to go.”
The period around Christmas is particularly busy this year, with the football authorities citing next summer’s World Cup as the reason why 10 rounds of fixtures need to be played between those dates. Two seasons ago, seven league games were played between these dates. And there will potentially be League Cup and European ties played during the same period.
The fan groups say: “It is unclear why this World Cup is so different from other major tournaments and it is to be hoped that future World Cups and European Championships do not lead to a recurrence.” And they go on to observe that “Little or no effort has been made by the Premier League to try and minimise away travel” over this period.
Analysis of the 2017/18 schedule reveals;
Scheduled trains run after just two of the 10 games in the 28 November midweek slot. Fans travelling by car between the locations of the teams concerned will get home before midnight after just two of the fixtures.
On 12/13 December, scheduled trains run after just three of the 10 games.
On 30/31 January, Manchester United, Watford and Arsenal fans face round trips of over 240 miles, with Watford and Arsenal fans having no scheduled trains home.
19 of the 20 sets of Premier League fans face total return trips of over 1,000 miles during December (only Arsenal fans, with 936 miles to face, come in under that), with 10 sets of fans facing total trip distances of over 1,500 miles and two, Brighton and Newcastle, having to travel over 2,000 miles in total.
Of course, the precise dates of games are yet to be confirmed, because the TV companies are now selecting the games they want to show. Fan groups have met with representatives from Sky and BT Sport to put the case for taking fans into account when making TV selections.
There has been limited progress in those discussions, with fan groups observing that the Premier League has “so far refused to commit to a grown-up discussion at the same table as fan reps and TV companies”. Sky is reported to have shown “an understanding of the issues facing fans, and a willingness to meet with fans and the Premier League”. But BT, which lobbied fans to oppose the Saturday 3pm blackout on live games, has not responded following the single meeting it held with fan reps.
TV picks for August and September are due to be announced on 10 July, with the September and October picks announced on 11 August. The fan groups say: “It is unclear why the September and October televised games are scheduled to be announced on 11 August, the day before the season starts. Earlier announcement of these would enable match-going supporters to take advantage of cheaper train fares.”
The FSF said: “Broadcasters are reliant on the atmosphere generated by supporters which goes a long way to creating their attractive TV ‘product’. How do empty stands look? Yet broadcasters and the Premier League seem intent on scheduling games at times which are increasingly difficult for fans to get to.”
The statement also expresses concern over media reports that two further time-slots – Saturday 7.45pm and Sunday 11.30am – are being considered when discussions over the new TV deal from 2019 open up. Those discussions are due to take place in the coming months.
The fan group statement ends: “The case for effective supporter input into decisions which directly affect us is undeniable. We are determined to make our voices heard on this subject, one which fundamentally impacts on match-going supporters, the lifeblood of the game. We will take whatever steps we feel appropriate to publicise legitimate supporter concerns.”