With the Premier League expanding to Friday nights this season at the behest of Sky Sports and their £4.2 billion investment, further strain is being put on match-going fans in order to cater to the more lucrative home audience.
On the surface, this makes sense as a business decision. Optimizing the Premier League’s product for the TV money hose that’s funding an influx of talent and international business interest is a logical thing to do. But, as the Guardian points out, this addition of Friday fixtures adds to a growing list of challenges for match-going supporters.
Weekday games spell trouble for traveling fans — especially when they must cover long distances, as Southampton supporters have to for the very first Friday night match at Man United. Granted, weekday matches are nothing new and there will only be 10 Friday matches this season in the Premier League, but that number will surely grow as broadcasters look to fill as many time slots as possible with the programming for which they paid a hefty sum. No matter how inconvenient for ticket buyers.
Though this might sound like an issue that only affects a relative few in the context of the millions of Premier League fans around the world, it’s actually a significant one for the Premier League match as a TV show, as well.
Think how weird it would be if a show set in a big city only had the main characters all by themselves in every scene — streets empty, eerily quiet, no other people in sight. Or imagine the Jerry Springer Show without an audience to chant “Jer-ry! Jer-ry! Jer-ry!” every time two inbred hillbillies fight over who gets to use their toaster as a sex toy. It would be distractingly unnatural. It would make the shows seem less alive, and, in turn, less entertaining.
Diminished traveling support would have a similar impact on Premier League broadcasts. And it’s why clubs, the league, sponsors, and broadcasters should consider treating match-going fans as valuable, atmosphere creating extras on a TV show and an essential part of putting that show on, rather than customers.
Southampton shirt sponsor Virgin Media is providing free bus travel to get season ticket holders to and from Manchester, which shows they recognize the issue, but it doesn’t really get to the root of the problem: scheduling conflict between work and football. So if this proves prohibitive and damaging to the matchday atmosphere, maybe attending the football should be treated as a job and compensated as such.
While the Premier League should consider this to protect what they’ve already built, other leagues should consider it in order to build towards what the Premier League has. Serie A’s empty stadiums have been killing the atmosphere of its television broadcasts for years now. Perhaps funding in-stadium support would liven things up and help bring the league much larger television contracts that would be a sizable return on investment.
Is this an insane suggestion that will never happen? Maybe. But, for better or worse, football is now a TV show above all else and those who get the most out of it are going to treat it as such.