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BARBER ON FOOTBALL AND TV

16 January 2016


The news this week that both our matches away to Cardiff City and at home to Reading have been selected for live TV coverage on Sky Sports has once again meant a busy email inbox for me, with a range of reactions from Albion fans.

Some fans are disappointed: those who might have pre-booked travel to matches; those now unable to make the new dates or kick-off times; and those who prefer every game to kick-off at 3pm on a Saturday.

But there are a good number of fans who welcome such changes: those that can now make the match on the new date or time; those that love their club on TV because they want their team to be watched by fans of other clubs; and those who simply can't get to our games at any time.

We appreciate the difficulties fixture changes can throw up for fans, and even for the club it can mean reorganising hotels, travel, and training schedules; but I doubt it will surprise many to hear me say that I don't subscribe to the view that TV is – or has been – bad for our game.

In my opinion, some look at Saturday 3pm kick-offs through slightly rose-tinted specs. Yes, more games did kick-off at that time before live TV came along - but there were still many midweek games too, often the result of unlimited cup replays or league matches rearranged with more fixtures being postponed due to poorer pitches and harsher winters.

Fans still battled to get to those midweek games on a road network nothing like the quality we have today and on train timetables that ran as unhelpfully for football fans then as they can sometimes do today.


Then when supporters got to those grounds, visiting supporters often stood in the worst section of the stadium with an obscured pitch view, the choice of pie was more about whether it was hot, cold or edible, rather than about the filling.

Rarely were those midweek matches screened live on TV, a late night Sportsnight show, offering meagre highlights from one or two games at best, was the only way most fans got to see their team take part in those games. Times have indeed changed, and for the better.
 
In the 21st century, our working lives are different to what they were when the Saturday 3pm kick-off was born to accommodate factory workers who'd work a five-and-half-day week and finish on a Saturday lunchtime.

Family lives also run to different rhythms. And Saturday afternoons are no longer the preserve of the football industry, And, yes, live TV cameras at matches have changed the way and times we watch football. And, be in no doubt, new technology will change things further still.

TV contracts have become a huge component of the business of football: the bedrock of the business, particularly in the Premier League, as I am sure colleagues at Leicester, Bournemouth and Watford would now confirm.

Indeed, our game would look very different without TV but, as with all contracts, it's a two-way process and we have obligations to meet as part of every new TV contract signed. And, yes, the greater the value of the contract, the bigger the obligations.

By the end of the season, even in the Championship, we will have been involved in at least nine live TV matches, probably more if, as we hope, we are involved in the promotion chase up until those last few matches. And we have been attracting the league's biggest TV audiences.

Such exposure brings plenty of positives for our club. The additional revenue we receive every time the club is on live TV helps us to give Chris Hughton a bigger transfer budget, but it's also worth noting that the television money actually helps clubs like ours to keep ticket prices lower.

The Football League's broadcast contract is one which is signed with the support of all 72 clubs for the benefit of all 72 clubs. Every member club is party to the contract; and every member club benefits from it – both in terms of a lump sum payment and for each selected match.

Indeed, some of the League's smallest clubs, who might not receive any live TV exposure or additional fees in a season, still rely on this vital income stream – just as we at the Albion did not that long ago – to pay wages or, in some cases, for their very survival.

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In recent years, TV money has also been reinvested throughout the game to improve stadia, facilities, and to develop young players; squad sizes have also expanded, wages have risen; and the wider football industry – clubs, leagues, businesses and services supplying the game – now provide more employment for more people than ever before, boosting economies all over the UK.

With additional global TV deals now in place for the Football League (and Premier League), these contracts, creating vast exposure for clubs, also help to generate additional revenue for clubs by way of new and more valuable sponsorship revenues, and increased merchandise sales.

At the same time, contrary to what some believe, most clubs have seen attendances rise, not fall, helping to generate further increases in ticket revenue. TV gives the game a huge profile, and helps to maintain, develop and build interest in our game – both at home and abroad.

Nonetheless, the impact of television continues to divide opinion among fans, particularly when dates and kick-off times for matches are often moved to fit an expanding TV schedule. But this isn't new. It's been this way since 1992, when Sky’s support helped to create the Premier League.

For our club, with ambition to play at the next level, having nine matches live on TV this season is unprecedented. But for other clubs, who've played at that level in the past 25 years, this might well be the norm – and, if we secure promotion, it's something we'll also have to get used to.

It's easy to believe that TV companies – and clubs – don't consider fans when fixtures are changed. This simply isn't the case. TV wants atmosphere at its live games just as much as fans themselves. And let's not forget it's the football authorities and government that prevent matches being shown on TV at 3pm – to protect grass roots football – not the TV companies.

For me, a balance remains vital. Football needs TV – and TV needs football. And the football industry needs the noise and the passion of supporters to create the TV spectacle. Football simply wouldn't be the same without supporters at the game – and we mustn't ever forget this.

By the same token, thanks to TV revenue, our game is now healthy and, relatively speaking, financially stable. We attract the world's best players. We enjoy safe and atmospheric stadia. Our clubs are able to invest in bigger squads and to improve pitches to produce a better game.

Looking to the future, we're able to invest in academies to find and develop the best English talent. And, just as importantly, increased funding for our community schemes has helped us to expand the reach of our game to women and girls, as well as to the disabled and disadvantaged.

No, not everything is perfect, but we all know that it is impossible to keep everybody happy, in football just as in life itself. Some clubs do – and will – continue to struggle. The gap between the haves and have nots remains wide. And, sadly, watching football at the highest levels is too expensive for some.

But the overwhelming evidence is that TV's impact on our game has been much more of a force for good than not – and also in ways that many might not fully appreciate. The impact of television has helped the game to sustain, evolve and grow, and, most importantly of all, it's helped to make our game more accessible to more people than ever before.

UPCOMING HOME FIXTURES

ALBION V HUDDERSFIELD TOWN

SATURDAY 23RD JANUARY, KICK-OFF 3PM


ALBION V BRENTFORD

FRIDAY 5TH FEBRUARY, KICK-OFF 7.45PM



ALBION V BOLTON WANDERERS

SATURDAY 13TH FEBRUARY, KICK-OFF 3PM


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