Minister sides with Leeds United on TV changes to kick-off times

Chris Grayling
Chris Grayling
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FOOTBALL matches should not be moved to a different day at the last minute to accommodate television coverage, a Cabinet minister has said.

Chris Grayling said he does not support changes which disrupt fans after Labour’s Tom Blenkinsop called for an end to the dominance of TV contracts over football.

Mr Blenkinsop said Middlesbrough fans were given just over two weeks’ notice that their fixture at Charlton Athletic, around 250 miles away, was to be moved from Saturday to Sunday.

This means a lot of fans cannot now attend the match and many had already booked travel and hotels, he said.

The changing of fixtures to accommodate TV coverage has become an increasing concern for fans and clubs this season.

In December, controversial Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino attempted to highlight the issue by banning Sky from the team’s Elland Road stadium ahead of a televised match, although the cameras were eventually granted access.

TV companies are only permitted to broadcast a certain number of matches a season and are cannot show matches which kick off at the traditional time of 3pm on a Saturday.

During the business statement, Middlesbrough South and Cleveland MP Mr Blenkinsop told the Commons: “This week we saw the Premier League make a very good announcement that all clubs will cap the cost of away tickets at £30 which will be of great relief to many football fans out there.

“But a more pressing concern for fans, in particular Boro fans who will be watching Boro play this Sunday at Charlton, is the changing of fixtures.

“That game’s original time was supposed to be on Saturday.

“Fans were only given 17 days’ notice after making travel arrangements and booking hotels for the game to be played on the Saturday, and a lot of fans will not be able to attend due to the changes in those arrangements.

“Can we have a debate about the effect on football fans, with TV contracts having so much dominance over fixtures?”

Mr Grayling replied: “I understand the concern, though it is the case that TV coverage has brought the ability to watch matches to a much broader audience and still we have seen substantial crowds at all grounds around the country.

“But I absolutely understand the point you are making.

“I do not support the idea of last-minute changes in a way that disrupts people in the way that you suggested and I hope the football authorities will listen to what you said.”