Why Saturday afternoon kick-offs are pie in the Sky

West Ham United Supporters' Trust's Chris Wheal explains how broadcasters could work better for fans

Remember when West Ham played football at 3pm on Saturdays?  The past couple of seasons have seen barely a Saturday match at the London Stadium let alone one at 3pm.  

Partly this is down to success. This season we have at least eight games moved to a Sunday because of our European commitments.  But the main changes are down to broadcasting. Sky, BT Sport and Amazon are not trifling opponents.

On top of that, broadcasting regulator OfCom prefers armchair TV fans to supporters who go to matches to cheer on their team.  And the English and Scottish rules currently prohibit broadcasting any live football during the Saturday 3pm blackout.

Clubs have an impact too. Leicester, for example, can’t play a home match if the local rugby team, Leicester Tigers, are playing that day, because there won’t be enough stewards in the town. That can throw other games off. Add into the mix that the police and council safety groups can quibble about proposed changed kick-off times and what you have is, frankly, a mess.

Let’s not let our club off the hook. Clubs approve the Premier League’s TV deals as well as individual match moves. Clubs have been too interested in UK broadcasters’ money rather than match-going fans.  

How it works

Here’s how it works: Seven different TV packages are distributed between the three broadcasters (see our breakout). And there are minimum and maximum times each broadcaster can show an individual team, forcing West Ham fans to subscribe to all three packages to view all matches. Some broadcasters’ choices are designed to undermine a rival’s reputation. 

‘The only weekend where there was a choice of Friday or Monday was the opening weekend – Sky chose the Friday night but that was partly motivated to stop BT showing the first game of the season.’

That’s the expert view of the WHUST broadcasting rep, Mark Inskipp, who works with the Football Supporters’ Association in meetings with the broadcasters and Premier League.

Broadcasters also save some picks for later in the season when they work out which matches are going to be crucial at the top or bottom of the Premier League.  Sky wants to be sure it broadcasts the match that determines the league champions, for example.

But they also check if a broadcaster has used up its quota with individual clubs. ‘Some weeks, Sky can use a much lower pick for a decent match as they know BT has already maxed out on a club so they can’t choose that match as their second pick,’ explains Mark.

‘Sky screwed Amazon by choosing to broadcast matches on Sunday that were not already scheduled that day because of Europa. Sky knew this would restrict which games Amazon could show the following Tuesday. It really is a science.’

The police

Then the police and councils put their size 12s in. The broadcasters don’t want two televised games at the same time. But the police will argue that a later KO for a particular match poses a greater risk or a policing problem and effectively prohibit it.

The Chelsea v West Ham game was only announced as a 3pm Saturday KO after the broadcasters gave up trying to find a unique slot. This was just a few days before the game. Many of these arguments are predictable. The police would, if asked months earlier, have said that 3pm was manageable but 7.30pm wasn’t. But instead of putting in place contingency plans, the Premier League and broadcasters leave it until the last minute. WHUST wants decisions to be confirmed at least eight weeks before a game.

Long-distance away matches rearranged too close to the day prevent fans getting cheap travel. Finish times can be too late in the evening for away fans to get home.

Fan groups are demanding changes to the next broadcasting rights tender document to stop these things happening. Increasing revenues from overseas broadcasters may make the UK broadcasters slightly less powerful too.

WHUST believes it is the fans who pay for the broadcasting packages that fund the Premier League. The broadcasters and clubs should be working for us.

Package A (BT)

32 matches Saturday 12:30

20 second picks and 12 fifth picks

Individual club quota: Minimum 1, Maximum 6

Package B (SKY)

32 matches Saturday 17:30

15 first picks, 5 third picks and 12 fifth picks

Minimum 1, Maximum 6

Package C (SKY)

24 matches Sunday 14:00 and 8 matches Saturday 19:45 (for clubs that played away in Europe the previous Wednesday)

14 second picks and 18 fourth picks

Minimum 1, Maximum 5

Package D (SKY)

32 matches Sunday 16:30

19 first picks, 7 third picks and 6 fourth picks

Minimum 1, Maximum 5

Package E (SKY)

24 matches Monday 20:00 or Friday 19:30—20:00 and 8 matches Sunday 14:00

22 third picks and 10 fourth picks

Minimum 0, Maximum 5

Package G (BT)

20 matches from two midweek fixture programs

Minimum 2, Maximum 2

Package F (Amazon Prime Video)

10 matches from one Bank Holiday

10 matches from one midweek fixture program

Minimum 2, Maximum 2

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