Scottish Supporters Network

Supported by Supporters Direct Scotland and sponsored by Fansbet

Strengthening Scottish Football
SDS Logo
Fansbet Logo

Kick-off Times and Fixture Rescheduling

Hibs v Gers

Author – Michael Wood

 

Traditionally, professional football in Scotland and across the United Kingdom dominated Saturday afternoons. 3pm on a Saturday was the familiar kick off to the weekend’s action and became a much-loved custom in the country’s most popular sport. Now, in the 21st century, 3pm kick offs on a Saturday have been reduced to hosting as little as half of the weekend’s league action. The advent of widespread football coverage on television and the need to satisfy international markets as seen leagues take a more flexible approach to on which day and at what time matches kick off.

Employing a degree of flexibility and ingenuity to fixture scheduling is no crime and the majority of supporters will understand the complexities of modern day football. Television networks are now one of the most powerful stakeholders in professional football and it would be folly to ignore the positive impact that they have had since the early 1990s. Clubs are heavily reliant on the income from broadcast rights deals – even more so in Scotland where the commercial appeal of clubs is several levels below that of their English neighbours.

A problem arises when the rescheduling of fixture times and dates begins to inconvenience supporters. Unfortunately, this is starting to become commonplace in Scottish football. Each season presents further issues for supporters – be it late notice of changes to fixture dates and times or the challenges of following their team away from home, when the chosen dates and times appear prohibitive. Not only does that cause severe problems for the supporters themselves and fail to appreciate the contribution they make to the product of Scottish football, it also increases the risk of poor attendances – asking fans to embark on long journeys in order to reach their destination in time will merely turn some supporters away – instead settling for watching on television or listening on the radio. Scottish football has enough problems already in terms of filling stadiums, making it difficult for supporters to do so seems incredibly counterproductive.

Supporters Direct Scotland (SDS), in its role as a fan-representative organisation, undertook research to ascertain the thoughts and feelings of those affected by this issue; Scottish football supporters. The survey conducted, which received nearly 1,500 responses, asked respondents to give their views on the most appropriate kick off times/days, what a reasonable notice period for any changes should be whether or not they supported the SPFL’s introduction of Friday night matches. This paper will provide the results of possible reasoning for the trends, as well as providing recommendations from both SDS and its members. It will also include the outcomes and recommendations from the Supporters Direct Scotland Conference, which took place at Hampden Park on June 20th.

 

Research

The survey consisted of four straight forward questions for the respondents to answer:

  • What team do you support?
  • What do you feel is an acceptable period of notice that should be given for the rearranging of games for TV coverage?
  • Do you support Friday night football matches?
  • To rank match days/kick off times in order of preference

Only 112 respondents declined to say which team they supported. Despite asking those who replied what club they followed, the answers are not pertinent to the recommendations made. The issue of fixture rescheduling is one that is an issue for supporters, regardless of which team they support. It should be addressed to help all fans from all over the country – this will be expanded upon in the recommendations section of the paper.

First, we will look at what respondents felt was a reasonable notice period to be given for any changes to fixtures, be that the day on which they are played or the kick off time. Five options were available to answer from; Start of the Season, 3 weeks, 4 weeks, 5 weeks, 6 weeks. The chart below shows the spread of the results from the survey.

Fixture rescheduling imge 2

Notice period for fixture changes

It comes as no surprise that supporters would prefer a lengthy notice period of any chances to fixtures dates and/or times. This is particularly pertinent for away supporters, especially those travelling long distances and having to make travel arrangements a significant period in advance. Six weeks’ notice was the preferred period of time for those who responded – understandable as this would give supporters adequate time to change any arrangements made in order to accommodate. Whilst almost a quarter would like to see any changes made before the start of the season, this seems highly unlikely – ensuring that the SPFL stick to kick off dates and times before a ball has been kicked would not only require a huge amount of coordination with clubs and the police, it would also restrict any changes that could be made during the season – prohibitive in the extreme considering the uncontrollable elements that can affect Scottish football; other sporting events, weather and the consequences of cup competitions would cause particular problem.

The introduction of Friday night football fixtures has become common in the SPFL over the last two seasons. This has been an initiative by the league in order to boost attendances and to provide broadcasters with another television slot for a live match over the weekend. The survey asked respondents whether they were in favour of this move, with three options to answer from; Yes, No, Neither for or against. The results are shown below.

Fixture rescheduling image

Friday night matches

The results of this are not surprising, considering the popularity of Friday night football matches since they were introduced a couple of season ago. It has provided consistent kick off times on Fridays of 7.45pm and has allowed greater exposure for Scottish football, with matches airing on BT Sport. Not only this, but by showing live Scottish football on a Friday night, it ensures that there is fewer competition for viewership from other leagues. Although there are occasionally matches from the English Championship on a Friday night and some matches across Europe, the alternatives for viewers pale in comparison to what is on offer on the other live match slots spread across Saturday and Sunday.

The 30% against Friday night football hints at the strong affection towards traditional kick off times mentioned in the introduction of the paper. As we will examine later in this paper, 3pm on a Saturday remains the preferred kick off time for supporters, so there may be a sizeable number of supporters who are against Friday night matches and it takes fixtures away from this traditional slot. Whilst this is understandable, there must be an appreciation for the value of broadcast networks and what they contribute to the sport. There must be live Scottish football for the league to thrive and grow and with a restriction on broadcasting during Saturday afternoons (Financial Times, 2014), Friday nights may provide an outlet for the SPFL in the face of little competition from other leagues.

The final question that comprised the survey was for respondents to rank their preference in terms of kick off times throughout the week. Seven options were open to answer from; Saturday lunchtime, Saturday 3pm, Sunday lunchtime, Sunday 3pm, Midweek evening, Friday evening and Monday evening. Respondents were asked to rank their preferred kick off times. The table below shows the spread of preference for all options, ranging from 1 to 7.

Kick off time preference matrix


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Total

Sat 3pm

95.09%

1,279

2.97%

40

0.89%

12

0.30%

4

0.15%

2

0.37%

5

0.22%

3

 

1,345

Sat lunch

2.01%

27

40.56%

546

23.63%

318

15.01%

202

8.25%

111

7.13%

96

3.42%

46

 

1,346

Sun 3pm

0.67%

9

18.99%

255

27.55%

370

23.31%

313

15.64%

210

10.28%

138

3.57%

48

 

1,343

Midweek evening

0.00%

0

16.58%

223

16.51%

222

22.83%

307

22.83%

307

17.25%

232

4.01%

54

 

1,345

Fri evening

2.01%

27

19.11%

257

21.12%

284

13.98%

188

19.18%

258

14.50%

195

10.11%

136

 

1,345

Sun lunch

0.30%

4

1.64%

22

8.63%

116

19.20%

258

21.43%

288

31.55%

424

17.26%

232

 

1,344

Mon eve

0.00%

0

0.22%

3

1.78%

24

5.50%

74

12.64%

170

18.96%

255

60.89%

819

 

1,345

 

As can be seen from the above chart, the preferred kick off time is – unsurprisingly – 3pm on a Saturday, followed by Saturday lunchtime and then Sunday at 3pm. Despite the support for Friday night matches, midweek evening kick offs are preferred over the Friday evening slot. This may be due to supporters having other commitments on a Friday evening, whether social or financial barriers at the end of the week.

Monday evening was seen as the least popular of the options. Again, this is likely due to external factors contributing to supporters’ decision to attend matches. Not only are midweek games less popular as a preference anyway, spending money on watching a game just after a weekend may appear even less attractive.

Even more striking was that over 95% of supporters’ first preference was 3pm on a Saturday. As mentioned earlier in this paper, the welfare of the fan should be of paramount importance when deciding on kick off dates and times. Ensuring that supporters can get to a game in an adequate amount of time and with transport links allowing them to do so easily and in a cost efficient manner should be a high priority for the SPFL. We have recently seen what poor planning can do to supporters. The Scottish Cup 5th round will see Stranraer host Dundee United on Sunday February 8th at 12:30pm (BBC Sport, 2015). Considering that transport links are reduced on a Sunday and that Stranraer is approximately 166 miles from Dundee (AA, 2015), it is perplexing that the SFA chose this match at this time slot. If they wanted to broadcast this specific match on television, could the not have ensured that an mid-afternoon kick off time was chosen, rather than forcing Dundee United fans to leave the city in the early hours of Sunday morning?

Recommendations

As we have seen from the data complied following SDS’s survey, there is a general consensus as to what kick off times are preferred by supporters and what they believe is adequate notice period for any changes. There has also been a positive response to Friday night football, with the majority of survey respondents in favour of them; although this wasn’t reflected quite so strongly when listing their preferences, with weekend fixtures – whether Saturday or Sunday – still the number one choice for the fans.

As part of the research into the rescheduling of fixtures, SDS liaised with Supporters Trusts to get their view on the issue and to invite them to make recommendations as to how to tackle the problem. SDS met with members of the Hibernian Working Together group, the Arab Trust (Dundee United) and Don’s Supporters Together (Aberdeen). Below are their recommendations.

 

Hibs Working Together recommendations;

  • A minimum of ten weeks’ notice for rescheduling of fixtures due to television
  • Clubs to be allowed to select up to three Category B fixtures which would not be eligible rescheduling due to broadcast commitments

Arab Trust recommendations;

  • A minimum of six weeks’ notice for fixture rescheduling – primarily based on the increase in train ticket prices after this threshold
  • Kick off times must be set where it is possible for supporters to attend matches by public transport

Don’s Supporters Together;

  • A minimum of six weeks’ notice for fixture rescheduling
  • If a reasonable period of notice is an insurmountable problem then the SPFL needs to enter into negotiations with transport providers to reach an agreement to honour travel tickets or somehow recompense supporters.
  • An acknowledgment that television coverage may affect attendances and ticket prices at matches that our broadcast live on television should reflect this – offering match-going supporters a discount

 

These recommendations continue the trend set in the results from SDS’s survey. With emphasis on a lengthy notice period for fixture rescheduling, particularly when taking into account the issue of public transport and ensuring that supporters can get to and from matches with the utmost of ease and without significant financial burden.

One of the more original suggestions was to offer reduced ticket prices for matches that are covered by television networks. This could work alongside other ticket initiatives that clubs are offering. Recently we have seen Albion Rovers offer a pay what you want season ticket (AlbionRoversFC.com, 2014) and Inverness Caledonian Thistle allow supporters to pay what they wish for their recent league match against St Johnstone (SPFL.co.uk, 2015). By offering reduced ticket prices, this may assuage supporters from deciding to stay at home in the event of matches being broadcast on television.

As part of the research into the issue of fixture rescheduling and preferred kick off times, Supporters Direct Scotland held a workshop focus group at its annual Conference, at Hampden Park on June 20th. The workshop was attended by fourteen supporters, from various clubs and group affiliation. The intention was to canvass opinion on the issue and to engage with fans of other clubs that had not been involved in the aforementioned discussions.

Below is the key talking points and areas of contention that those in attendance had with regards to changes made to fixture dates and times;

  • With regards to how much notice should be given for any changes, the suggestion was made that supporters should ask the governing bodies and broadcast companies for a ten week period, with an acceptance that that would likely be lowered, to an acceptable six week period.
  • Echoing discussions and recommendations from other elements of the research conducted by SDS, it was put forward that matches on a Friday night should be reserved for teams within reasonable distance of one another and that the ability to go to and from a stadium via public transport should be a prerequisite when deciding who faces who in these fixtures.
  • The point was made that more should be done to warn supporters of any matches that may be liable to change, such as matches between two teams expected to be at the top of the league table, or derby matches. One way of addressing this was the potential implementation of a scale of ranking matches as ‘low’, ‘medium’ or ‘high’ risk in terms of the likelihood of being changed.
  • As for issues over travel, it was suggested that more should be done between the SPFL and SFA and the public transport companies, such as ScotRail, either by offering discounted travel prices for supporters, or honouring previously purchased tickets for new dates in the event of matches being rescheduled.
  • Perhaps the most important discussion held during this session was that of the issue of fixture rescheduling being a key agenda point in contractual discussions held between the SFA and SPFL and broadcasters Sky, BT and BBC. It was agreed that by lobbying for this to be the case, the concerns of football supporters would become central to how these contractual agreements are reached and would ensure that fans are an important aspect of a decision making process that directly affects them.

Supporters Direct has also made its own recommendations regarding the issue of fixture rescheduling. These are detailed below;

  • A minimum of six weeks’ notice period for the rescheduling of fixtures due to television commitments
  • Ticket prices to be amended for matches that are broadcast on television
  • For distance between teams to be taken into account when scheduling fixtures. Supporters should be able to go to and from a stadium on public transport links
  • For Friday night football matches to be between two teams within reasonable distance of one another, considering that many fans will be working that day

Conclusion

There can be no doubt that the rescheduling of fixtures in Scottish football and the subsequent effect it has on supporters is a major issue to be addressed. There have been countless incidents in which fans have been made to suffer due to long journeys on weekday evenings, early weekend starts and poor public transport links. Considering the importance of supporters and what they bring to the product of Scottish football, it seems absurd that more consideration isn’t given to their needs. Ensuring that supporters can attend matches safely and with ease should be of paramount importance to not only the governing bodies of Scottish football, but also to Police Scotland.

The recommendations made in this paper should serve as the foundation of the discussion on the issue of fixture rescheduling. Many of the suggestions made would appear to be basic in nature and could easily address many of the problems that have been highlighted here. It is SDS’s hope that this can serve as part of a large discussion, including more supporters, clubs and the governing bodies, to help make football more accessible for supporters. They provide such an important part of the match day experience, that greater attention should be paid to their needs. Simple decisions like ensuring that Dundee United fans don’t have to attend a match at Stranraer at 12:30pm on a Sunday seem logical, but appear to escape the attention of those making the decisions. While there is an appreciation of what television deals bring to Scottish football in terms of the commercial benefits and a prime revenue stream for the clubs, this does not mean it should be at the expense of the supporters and what is best for them. It is entirely possible to fill live television slots throughout the week without inconveniencing the supporters. This issue needs to be approached with the dedication and importance that is afforded to BT Sport and Sky Sports. Then, and only then, will supporters start to see their standing as principle stakeholders in Scottish football acknowledged and the sport can be fairer and more accessible to those most important to its health.

 

Michael works for Supporters Direct Scotland in Communications and Network content. He is a Masters graduate from the University of Stirling and has previously worked for SPFL club Stirling Albion