The second article in this series looks at how playing summer football in Scotland might positively impact on both TV viewing figures and on the ‘spectator experience’.
In the first article, I argued that a football season running from spring to autumn would greatly improve our clubs’ standing in Europe – to the benefit of Scottish football as a whole. This article sets out two further sets of reasons for switching to summer football: the TV deal, and our climate. The final article will look at potential problems with summer football (international competitions, other uses of club facilities and transitional issues) and draw some tentative conclusions.
Television money is clearly a very important factor in the modern game. Those countries (paradigmatically, England) that have harnessed their potential to generate large viewing audiences for the game have surged ahead in footballing terms, to the extent that even the largest Scottish clubs struggle to compete with some 2nd-tier English clubs in the transfer market. Detailed analyses of broadcasting deals across Europe have shown that Scottish football receives a very poor level of tv revenues compared to similar countries. It seems uncontroversial that securing a better tv deal would bring much needed funds into our game, give security to struggling clubs and improve both the quality of our football and its European and international standing.
An important step towards achieving a better tv deal is to understand what is driving the audience figures. Sky and ESPN viewing statistics for Scottish football for the period 14 August 2010 to 19 March 2011 may be found here. An analysis of those figures is set out below, together with an argument that:
- the size of the tv audience for Scottish games is strongly influenced by competition with other football matches televised at the same time; and
- summer football could substantially boost our viewing figures (and therefore our tv revenues) by reducing the level of that competition.
Firstly, some points of reference. The average audience for a live Sky game in this period was 266,596. However, this is massively skewed by the three ‘Glasgow derby’ fixtures – which attracted an average of 788,122 viewers. A more helpful average, for the purposes of comparison, is that of all games except the Glasgow derbies: 168,810. The average audience for games involving Celtic or Rangers (but not both) was 208,049; and that for games featuring neither of the Glasgow clubs was 103,412.
So which games, leaving aside the Glasgow derbies, attracted the largest number of viewers? Top of the list, by some distance, was Inverness CT v Rangers (on 11 December 2010) which attracted an audience of 323,368 – almost twice the average audience, and over 60,000 more than the 2nd placed game (Motherwell v Celtic). This seems surprising: you might think that Rangers (or Celtic) playing one of the larger clubs (Hearts, Aberdeen, Dundee Utd or Hibs) would generate more interest than a game against a much smaller club like Inverness CT. So what accounts for this remarkably high audience? The report itself offers an explanation: there was “no other live Sky football to compete against during the time period that this match was broadcast.”
The 3rd most watched game is even more surprising: St. Mirren v Hibs (on 20 February 2011) with a programme audience of 221,204. To put that in context, it’s more than twice the average audience for games involving neither of the Glasgow giants – and more than both Aberdeen v Rangers and Dundee Utd v Celtic (respectively 4th and 5th on the list). What accounts for this remarkable figure? The report offers no explanation, but the fixtures list strongly suggests that competition was (again) the most important factor. That weekend saw the FA Cup 5th Round games take place, and there was only one English Premier League (EPL) game: West Brom v Wolves. The fact that this St. Mirren v Hibs game kicked off shortly after the end of a Celtic v Rangers match may have boosted the audience figure to a degree, but would that have still been the case if (say) Man Utd. v Chelsea was on tv at the same time?
I consider myself to be a strong supporter of Scottish football. However, I must be honest: given the choice of watching St. Mirren v Hibs or Man Utd v Chelsea, the latter would win every time. And therein lies the problem. Scottish football is competing for its audience with its more glamorous neighbour south of the border – and it’s struggling. On most weekends during the football season, several EPL games are broadcast live – and often one of those (at least partially) overlaps with the live SPL game. Even the (now absent) Glasgow derbies felt the impact of this competition: the Celtic v Rangers game on 20 February 2011 (i.e. FA Cup 5th round weekend) attracted over 250,000 (40%) more viewers than the one on 24 October 2010 (when it was competing with EPL games involving Liverpool, Man City, Arsenal and Man Utd). It’s reasonable to infer from the analysis above that there is a significant number of people who will watch a competitive football game on the weekend if one is broadcast live on tv; but, if there is more than one game on at the same time, they will watch the one that is of the greatest interest to them.
What does all this have to do with summer football? Well, the EPL finishes in mid-May and doesn’t return until mid-August: a full three months during which our main competitor is effectively on its holidays. Do we take advantage of this hiatus by cramming as much Scottish football into it as we possibly can? Do we heck! The SPL season typically starts one or two weeks before the EPL in August but, apart from that, we have a long summer break at roughly the same time. This seems like a huge missed opportunity.
The interminably long summer months are a footballing desert – punctuated only, every second year, by the brief oasis of an international competition (see the next article for more on this). We all know that feeling of July dragging on and on and on as we count the days (/hours/minutes) to the start of the new season, watching – and over-analysing -pointless friendly matches in a desperate bid to quench our thirst for competitive football. Scottish football, if played over the summer months, could fill that void – and in the process bring some much-needed attention (and revenues) to our game.
The climactic reasons supporting summer football appear to fall into four categories: the viewing experience, the state of the pitches, postponements, and the risks associated with travel. I’ll briefly examine each of these in turn. This article will not analyse, in any detail, the Scottish climate – suffice it to say that the weather is generally a lot better in the summer than in the winter, even if the degree to which that is true may vary from year to year. Those interested in exploring this further are referred to the Met Office website.
Firstly, everyone who’s sat on a freezing cold plastic seat for two hours, watching an (often terrible) Scottish football game, wrapped up like the yeti, with every bone in your body turning to ice and every exposed surface bitten and chaffed by wintry winds, will surely have questioned not only why they attend Scottish football matches but also their own sanity. I certainly have. If attending games were made a more pleasurable experience, or at least a less unpleasant one, it seems reasonable to infer that more people would do it. And few would dispute that its more enjoyable to watch a football game in May or August than it is in February. Summer football could help to boost attendances at matches, and thereby increase the gate receipts that are the lifeblood of most clubs.
But this is not just about being cold (or wet) at a game, or on your way to one. The second climactic reason in support of summer football is that some of our football pitches get into a terrible state in the winter. This detrimentally affects the quality of the football that can be played on them, and therefore its entertainment value. Neutrals are more likely to tune into a match on tv if they think they’ll see some quality football, rather than just some guys hoofing the ball up a farmer’s field. Playing summer football would encourage teams to play a more attractive, passing game rather than the sort of long-ball game that’s all too often prevalent during the winter months. And that can only be good for our game.
Thirdly, winter is largely (though by no means exclusively) the season of postponements. And the problems caused by postponing a game are legion. Travelling fans are hugely inconvenienced (particularly when games is postponed at short notice, as they often are); fans who’ve bought tickets often can’t attend the rearranged fixture; and fans’ money, which may be in very short supply, is wasted in large quantities. Playing football in the summer rather than the winter would lead to far fewer postponements, and would therefore generate much less of these problems.
Finally, fans travelling to games in wintry conditions faced an increased risk of accidents – particularly on the roads. This is exacerbated by the fact that there is now two Highland clubs in the SPL, and so even larger numbers of away fans will be travelling to games from the central belt up the treacherous ‘road of death’ – the A9. And fan safety is surely a very important factor to be taken into account.
In this article, I’ve argue that a move to summer football is supported both by the prospects of securing an improved tv deal and by climatic considerations. The final article in this series will look at some problems that playing summer football could cause, and how those problems might be addressed.