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Massimo Cellino may not have won many friends since he took control of Leeds in April 2014, but the controversial Italian may have raised a very valid point over the level of control that television broadcasting companies hold over football. The recent announcement that Leeds upcoming local derby with Middlesbrough at Elland Road will be moved to Monday February 15th instead of the original Saturday 3pm kick-off on February 13th has incurred the wrath of the chairman once again, with Cellino left ‘shocked and confused’ by the decision. It comes after Cellino infamously held a stand-off with Sky Sports and refused access to the cameramen who turned up ahead of the clash with Derby in late December, but although he reluctantly backed down, the legal challenge he formed against the broadcasting company carries an element of sense. While it may not improve Leeds’ odds of beating the current league leaders on Coral (or any football bet site for that matter), the fixture delay carries a number of ramifications that Sky Sports do not take into consideration
The Football League, who seemingly allow Sky Sports to flex their financial muscle and dictate changes made to the fixture list every season without any resistance, have ultimately laid the blame squarely at Cellino’s door. They have claimed that the legal challenge made by the Italian slowed down the announcement of the fixture change – one that has left many fans who had previously made travel arrangements and booked accommodation, including 35 Leeds fans from Norway who had already booked their hotel and flights, rather unhappy. Football authorities, by their own regulations, should have revealed the list of televised games for February in mid-December in order for both teams to make suitable arrangements, but the delay has not been universally popular with either club or their set of fans.
Cellino may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he is the only one who has challenged the number of fixture changes that create unnecessary disruption for fans who have to change their plans, and also affects the club in lost revenue. A reduction in fans through the turnstiles and sat in the stands at Elland Road may be Cellino’s biggest concern, with the number of people who may choose to watch the game on television instead potentially resulting in a loss in income that is not balanced out by the money received from Sky Sports according to Cellino. The club should be able to focus on matters on the pitch and allow fans to get behind the players with a bet on Leeds to move back up the table with Coral instead of worrying about re-arranging plans to support a team close to their heart, especially with Steve Evans seeing Leeds slide down to 17th. Leeds need to remain united in order to prevent the team ending up in a relegation battle, but although Cellino has a great point in questioning the decisions made by Sky Sports, it can not distract from pressing matters on the pitch, especially with crucial fixtures against teams in the lower half on the horizon.
It is easy to forget that football was built upon the foundations of every game being played on a Saturday at the same time, and while the emergence of television coverage has made a huge difference to the level of financial income generated by Leeds and other clubs across the country, the fact that Sky Sports put viewing figures over the interests of football fans is where the true problem lies. Leeds have already had ten fixtures changed this season, and while the alteration with the Middlesbrough game has enraged many, the decision to move next month’s trip to Brighton to a Monday may be the most mystifying and shocking. Instead of being able to set off and arrive back home at a more convenient time of day on the Saturday, fans have been left to take time off work and make a journey that may not see them home in Leeds until the early hours of Tuesday morning. Furthermore, the fixture change may also see a number of loyal fans who had planned on travelling to the Amex Stadium having to miss out, and therefore reducing the level of support from the stands that fans can give to the team.
It takes a big man to stand up to how football is controlled from a broadcasting perspective, and while Cellino may be outspoken and controversial, the valid points he has raised against Sky Sports should be applauded and supported by those who want to see the best interests of every football club and their fans protected.