I don’t doubt that when the Football League agreed its television contract with Sky it thought first and foremost about the money involved
You can’t deny that clubs in the Championship benefit from Sky’s millions but it’s becoming clear that the League gave too little thought to the overall, long-term effects of the deal.
Nobody seems to know what exactly is in the contract with Sky, but looking from the outside it seems to me that they have carte blanche to do whatever they please.
They’ve jumped on the bandwagon of the Championship in a big way this season and I suspect that’s down to the fact that they’ve lost the rights to the Champions League. Fresh viewing figures need to come from somewhere.
They pay their money and they have their demands but, quite frankly, the anger among Leeds United’s supporters should be easy to understand. We’ve had far too many televised games this season and far too many changes to our fixture list. The late switch of the Middlesbrough game next month – no matter the reasons – really is one kick in the teeth too many.
As a club, Leeds United are victims of popularity. We’ve got a large fanbase and a very big away following which exceeds quite a few in the Premier League. What that means for Sky is firstly big TV audiences and secondly decent crowds inside the stadiums. The second point is an important one. In order to sell the Championship as a credible competition, Sky need attendances and atmospheres. Viewers will naturally drift away if stadiums are half-empty.
But in the long run the carefree arrangement of live matches is going to come at the cost of fans who choose not to attend anymore.
I do believe, as our owner has said, that season ticket holders will start to think twice about renewing theirs if rearrangements are forcing them to miss matches.
Yes, they might still buy plenty of matchday tickets, but clubs need season ticket revenue to run and operate through the summer. It’s a vital source of revenue.
On top of that, how can you expect people flying in from Norway or Ireland to keep up that sort of commitment when they’re getting stitched up repeatedly?
I regularly see Norwegian fans in my pub and I can think of plenty of occasions when they’ve paid to come over, put their money down and then found that the game they were planning to watch has moved.
They basically have a few days drinking in Leeds before going home. It’s not right and it’s not good enough to simply ignore situations like that.
Whether or not you agree with the way our owner has tackled this – trying to cut away tickets, threatening to shut Sky out of Elland Road – you’d have to agree that where this issue is concerned he’s put his neck on the block.
We’re not the only club frustrated by fixture disruption but he’s the one who’s taken up the fight and pushed the problem out into the open.
After the late rearrangement of next month’s game against Boro, and the anger that’s caused, I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to stick their head in the sand any longer. There’s going to have to be some serious discussion at the end of the season about the ins and outs of the Sky deal and that needs to involve every Championship club, not just ours.
On your own it’s very difficult to change anything. But ask around and I think you’d find that quite a few teams have a problem with the way Sky’s contract is allowed to work.
I’m not suggesting for a minute that we should never be on television. I understand why Sky want to show us. But there have to be limits and there has to be some level of consideration shown to the fans.
This issue blew up big time before Christmas and Leeds United’s point was very clearly made.
Since then, Sky have not only moved Brighton away to a Monday but they’ve done the same with Boro – less than four weeks in advance.
If they’re listening to the public then they’ve got a funny way of showing it.