A Case For…Summer Football (3)


In the final piece in this series advocating summer football, we address some objections to the idea of switching to summer football – and suggest some solutions.

Our first article set out how playing football over the summer (instead of the winter) could greatly improve the performances and standing of our clubs in Europe. The second article argued that it might help us to obtain a better tv deal, and would be much better aligned with the Scottish climate. This final article looks at three main objections:

1. summer football would create clashes with the World Cup and the Euros;

2. some clubs use their facilities for other purposes in the summer; and

3. it’s not clear how we’d effect the transition to playing summer football.

Whilst the first two articles have not yet generated much debate on this site, they did spark a healthy debate on Jambos Kickback. At the end of this article, I’ll address some additional objections that have been raised on that site.

International Competitions

This objection has ben raised by several people as being THE most serious obstacle to moving to summer football. International tournaments are played every second summer (largely in June) and would therefore clash with the league season. And even if Scotland do not qualify for the tournments (as is, sadly, the recent trend), our top-tier clubs employ a number of players from other countries who will be participating in them. And some of the benefits of summer football in terms of securing a better  tv deal (due to lesser competition for viewers) would also be lost during the World Cup / Euros. For many, this clash  with international tournaments is an insuperable difficulty.

The starting point, in solving this problem, is to recognise that other European countries (e.g. Sweden) play summer football and yet regularly, and successfully, participate in international competitions. So how to they do it? The answer is simple: they start the league season a little earlier in the year; pause it before the tournament starts; re-commence it once participation in the tournament has finished; and the league finishes a little later in the year.

How does this work in practice? Sweden provides a good example. It has a top league of 16 teams, involving 30 league games per season. Its climate practically necessitates the playing of summer football. It has a strong record of reaching the finals of, and doing relatively well in, international tournaments. Its key dates for the last three seasons are:

  • This year, 2012, the league season started on 31 March and it’s due to run until early November. The season stopped for the Euros on 24 May and it re-started again on 30 June (the final of the Euros was on 1 July).
  • In 2011, there was no international competition. The league started on 2 April and played all through the summer, ending on 23 October.
  • In 2010, the league kicked off on 13 March and ended on 7 November. It took a break between 24 May and 17 July for the World Cup.

There seems no reason, in principle, why Scotland could not do something similar. Indeed, it’d be easier for Scotland to do this – as the Scottish winter isn’t nearly as harsh as Sweden’s, giving us a good deal more flexibility over dates. Moreover, there may even be consequential benefits. If Scotland does qualify for an international tournament (as we all hope, and our chances of reaching the Euros is greatly increased from 2016 – when it expands from 16 to 24 teams) then we’ll be playing mid-season – rather than at the end of a long season. Surely this can only improve Scotland’s chances of doing well, perhaps even helping us to reach the knock-out stages for the first time ever?

In conclusion, this major objection is not just entirely manageable: summer football might even help to improve Scotland’s performances at international tournaments.

Facility Use

Some clubs use their stadia, and other facilities, for other purposes (e.g. concerts) during the summer – and thereby raise some much-needed revenues. And that may we adversely impacted if matches are to be played over the summer. There may be less demand for clubs’ facilities over the winter months.

There is not a great deal to be said about this objection. Clearly, prior to any switch to summer football, the authorities would need to work with the clubs to determine to what extent this would be a problem. If this would raise serious financial issues for any club(s), the authorities could establish a system under which clubs may apply for compensation. This would need to be funded by the other clubs, collectively. It makes no sense that the majority of clubs should be unable to access large revenue increases because a minority would suffer small decreases in revenues. The clubs can work together to smooth out such differences. Any non-financial issues (e.g. long-term contracts) would need to be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

In the abstract, therefore, this is not (I would argue) a sufficiently serious issue to prevent our clubs accessing the myriad benefits of summer football. However, the impact on our clubs would need to be explored, in advance of the change, and mechanisms put in place to ensure that no club is significantly disadvantaged by it.

Transitional Issues

Clearly, in the absence of a time machine we can’t simply move directly from a season that ends in mid-May to one that starts in (say) March. A managed transition would be necessary. This could be done either within the contraints of the current league structure (top-flight of 12 clubs etc.), or in combination with a transition to a new league structure (future Glasnost articles will set out a case for top-flight expansion).

The simplest way to make the transition is to have one short season. This would necessitate a different league structure, at least for that year. So the league season would start a little earlier (perhaps early/mid-July) and finish in time for the players to have a significant break (at least 6 weeks?) before the start of the new season. So, if (going forward) the seasons were to begin in (say) mid-March, the transition season might conclude at the end of January. The number of games that could be played within that period would then directly influence the most appropriate league structure for the transition season. There may be a number of different ways of reaching the desired number of games. For example, if the top flight is to remain at 12 clubs, each club playing the others twice would equal 22 games; a split after each club has played the other twice (rather than three times) would generate 27 games instead of 36; each club playing the others three times comes to 33 games.

If it is decided that the top-flight would benefit from expansion (or even contraction) then further options may be available. For that change may itself need to be introduced over a transitional period. And there may be profitable ways of combining the two transitions. For example, if it was decided that the top-flight should have 16 teams (perhaps with a split), the ‘short’ season could involve an intermediate 14 teams – with each club playing the others twice (26 games) or could itself involve some sort of split.

A ‘pure’ transition, starting the league a little earlier each year, is unattractive due to the length of time that it would take to reach the desired outcome. For example, if the season were to start (and finish) three weeks earlier each year, it might take 7 or more seasons to move the start of the league from early August to early March. Larger jumps (e.g. 4 weeks) would reach the destination less slowly (though it’d still take 5+ years) but would adversely impact on the players’ main rest period of the year. Smaller jumps would, of course, take even longer (e.g. 2 week jumps would produce an 11-year transition).

These matters are all clearly up for debate. But, once we’ve settled on what shape we wish our leagues to take and when we want our football to be played, it seems likely that an acceptable solution will emerge.

Jambos Kickback

As mentioned above, this series of articles has generated some interesting debates on Jambos Kickback. Whilst many of the contributors were positive about the idea, various objections were also raised. I’ve set out some of these below and responded to them:

“winter’s bad enough without having any football to distract me”

This is a fair point. There’ll certainly be football to watch over the winter (e.g. the EPL) but our teams will not be playing. All I can really say in response to this is that the benefits of summer football far outweigh this drawback.

“I holiday in the UK and do not fancy going in February or November. Don’t want to miss the football”

Again, a fair point. However, its effects may not be very great. Few people go away on holiday for three weeks or more, so the risk is of missing one (or at most two) home games (out of 15-20 over the whole season). And many people and families go on their holidays in May/August/October and therefore miss a game or two anyway (under the current system). And what about the prospect of getting more plum European ties and combining your holidays with those? As for away games (for those who don’t attend them) and the large ‘neutral’ audience, Sky Sports and ESPN are available in pubs around the world and it’s not uncommon to watch a match on tv while on holiday (I even managed to watched one on my honeymoon!).

“Is there actual proof that we’d get bigger revenue though?”

In short, no. To a certain extent we’d be taking a leap of faith. But the analysis of the audience figures in the previous article gives us a strong argument for a better deal. At the very least, preliminary discussions could be held with the broadcasters to raise the idea with them and take their temperature on it. But we might just need to be bold and radical, and hope to win over the broadcasters by making a success of it over a period of years. A faint heart never won a fair maiden.

“there’s as much chance of a torrential downpour in the summer as in the winter, this year being a prime example of that”

Not a good point. Yes, there’s the possibility of freak weather at any time of the year. But it’s far more likely in the winter than in the summer. Average rainfall in the winter months is significantly higher than in the summer, and average temperatures significantly lower. And the problems created by snow and ice are exclusively a winter phenomenon. Memories are often short, but the climate figures don’t lie (and have we all forgotten the very severe winters of 2009/10 and 2010/11 and the serious problems that they caused?) . This year’s very wet so-called “summer” may be fresh in the memory, but we should be looking to restructure our leagues based on long-term evidence of climate – not one wet summer.

There are many other interesting comments on the Jambos Kickback site. Unfortunately, space prevents us from responding to more of them here, but it’s well worth reading through the whole thread. Hopefully, future comments will be posted (or at least re-posted) on this site, so that there is a central repository of people’s views on this issue.

Conclusions

I think that there is a compelling case for summer football. Our first and second articles set out strong advantages of playing in the summer rather than the winter: in terms of European football, tv revenues and the fan experience. This article has argued that the main objections can be managed, and some may even be capable of being turned to our advantage.

These articles don’t pretend to be comprehensive, or to be the last word on the subject. They’re intended, rather, to put the issue on the agenda and to provoke debate. Clearly a great deal of further work needs to be done to assess the feasibility of summer football and to determine the optimal method of its implementation. But the boost that this change could give to the standing of our national game justifies that work being done.

Please do share your thoughts on summer football below.

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2 Responses to A Case For…Summer Football (3)

  1. CelticMark1888 says:

    For me, it would make a big difference to have summer fitba. I don’t even think of coming up to Scotland for games from end of November till middle of March. To get cheap train tickets I have to book in advance so have to be confident kick-off time will not change, plus the chance of the games being called off in those months mean that I just can’t afford to take the risk. In the summer, I’m sure a lot of other fans that travel a long way to games would go more often & that would encourage others to start going (maybe some of the supporters clubs from the south could even run buses). For me, it’s all positive: the quality of play, training etc would all improve. The sooner the better…

  2. Muad'dib says:

    A clear and reasoned argument. I can’t really think of any good reasons for playing in winter. The other pro coming from this would be the safety aspects, taking cars off the roads in hazardous driving conditions. Might save a few lives.

    Nice posts on your blog about important football issues. Glad to see it is not bogged down with the Glasgow issue.

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