LEEDS UNITED could have played Monday night’s controversial fixture with Middlesbrough on Saturday lunchtime, but rejected a compromise deal proposed by the Football League, The Yorkshire Post can reveal.
The Elland Road fixture became a major subject of controversy once it was made public in mid January that Sky wanted to broadcast the match live.
Monday night was Sky’s preferred date, something to which Leeds and owner Massimo Cellino objected strongly as they felt the shift would cost the Elland Road club revenue in lost ticket sales.
Supporters were also left furious by the plan, with many having already paid for travel that could not be reimbursed.
United’s Supporters Trust vehemently condemned the switch to Monday night, while Cellino wrote in last night’s programme of the inconvenience and cost fans had faced due to ruined travel plans.
Leeds’s response to the Boro game becoming their 12th fixture to be selected for live broadcast this season was to start legal action against the Football League in an attempt to shatter the collective selling of TV rights.
This was lodged on December 11, 24 hours after the club had first been informed of Sky’s intention to move the Boro game.
United’s challenge to the League surprised the other 71 member clubs, who collectively earn around £100m per year from the current deal.
Representatives of those clubs met last Thursday to debate the issue. Ahead of the meeting in Milton Keynes, all clubs were issued with a confidential report from League chief executive Shaun Harvey.
This newspaper has seen that report, which confirms that Leeds served a Notice of Arbitration on December 11 that, according to Harvey, “sought to have our contract with Sky declared as unlawful” and called for “the right for clubs to sell broadcasting rights on an individual basis”.
The papers also confirm that the League took out a legal injunction against Leeds to make them honour last night’s fixture. Leeds withdrew the legal threat to the collective TV deal on January 28.
Also revealed in the report to the clubs is a compromise deal that was offered to Leeds on December 15 for the fixture to be played on Saturday at 12.30pm. The League’s report to clubs continues: “But LUFC said that was not acceptable. On December 17, 2015, the FL wrote to Ward Hadaway, the solicitors acting for LUFC, noting that the FL’s offer to re-fix the game for 12.30pm on February 13 had been rejected.
“The FL’s letter said that ‘in those circumstances (the FL) directs that the Middlesbrough match having been selected for Sky, will take place and be televised on Monday, February 15 at 19.45 hours’.”
Writing in last night’s programme on the rescheduling and its impact on supporters, Cellino said: “We are aware of many supporters, not only from England but across the world, who made plans to attend this game at the originally scheduled date of Saturday at 3pm.
“Those fans feel the effect financially and emotionally, but it is difficult for their voices to be heard. It is with their interests in mind that we continue to push for change.”
United are understood to have received just over £100,000 as a live broadcast fee for last night’s Boro game. Each Championship club receives a basic central payment of £1.5m from Sky for 2015-16, with individual games then topping up that amount across the season.