The TV scheduling lesson that will never be learned

Leicester City’s win over Aston Villa on Sunday was comfortably the game of the Premier League weekend.  It was rough around the edges and it featured some truly appalling defending, but the good comfortably outweighed the bad and it was actually the perfect illustration of how English football should look.

It was a game of momentum; the amateur analysts will have fun dissecting Tim Sherwood’s inability to secure the points, but the greater point was that it was wonderfully engaging.  There won’t be many Sunday 4pm matches this season which provide better entertainment.

And that brings up an old grievance: the television schedule.

The Premier League is broadcast as more of a five-team tour around the country than an actual league and, while that has probably helped to accentuate its value - especially overseas - it really is a shame.

On the right, courtesy of the official website, is a graphic showing the amount of times that each club appeared on Sky Sports or BT Sport least season.  It’s what you would expect: the schedules were dominated by the usual five with Newcastle, clinging to the memory of their 1990s relevance, also a television regular.

It’s that way for a reason.  With big clubs come big fanbases and with big fanbases come higher ratings and lucrative advertising contracts.  Similarly, football is about silverware and winning games, so it’s perfectly logical to prioritise the marquee fixtures and the games which, superficially at least, have a greater influence of the destination of the trophy.

Last weekend, Manchester United against Liverpool was shown live and, during the upcoming round of fixtures, Chelsea and Arsenal will go head-to-head in front of the cameras.

Clearly, those are the sort of games which neutrals tune into and they are attractive irrespective of whether they live up to their billing or not.

But - and I say this in hope rather than expectation - shouldn’t the league be moving towards some kind of parity in this country?  Under the current broadcasting contract, any one team can be shown a maximum of twenty-eight times in a season, which equates almost to a digital season-ticket.

And that’s too much; that level of domination will, over a period of time, cause mass-disenfranchisement.

The television companies will always chase the big teams and, as businesses, they’re entitled to.  That means, then, that any kind of reform has to come from the league itself and, to promote a more even level of visibility, Gloucester Avenue would have to restrict the legislation governing single-team regularity.

It’s perfect-world thinking, clearly, because such a change would impact the vending process and Richard Scudamore would have no interest in harming his periodic cash-harvest, but it would likely - almost certainly - help to create a healthier competition and a better viewing experience.

No, not every game between evenly-matched opponents will lead to a 3-2 fun-fest, but the salient point is that more should be done to ensure that, where possible, competitive games are televised. Not “big team against little team, with the mild prospect of a shock” or “big team travels to smaller ground, hoping to avoid an upset” but real contests, fixtures which are decided by players rather than resources.

English football occurs within an uniquely diverse landscape and, increasingly, it feels as if the cameras are only trained on one part of it.  Sure, we see different grounds and we watch different players, but the storylines are always the same and are continually centred around a small cluster of elite, popular teams.

“But everyone gets their money…”

That’s not an argument.

While every participating club is handsomely rewarded for the Premier League status, surely there’s credibility in suggesting that, with more exposure, teams would have the opportunity to grow their fanbase and become more prominent.  It’s worth remembering that attending football matches in this country has never been more expensive than it is in 2015 and many supporters are reliant on television to keep them attached to their sides.  If fathers are unable to take their children to games and are unable to build organic loyalty in the next generation, then presumably - with all things remaining equal - the future composition of football’s fanbase will be determined by regularity of television exposure rather than geographical locality or inherited loyalty.

That’s not the only factor behind such migration, but it’s still important.  The bigger issues, of course, are ticket prices and the general economic exploitation of anyone who goes within a square mile of a football stadium, but television is silently become a comparable problem.

It’s irritatingly apparent that, given the choice, Sky and BT would rather the Premier League was just a five-team round-robin which produced an endless supply of Grandslam Sundays, Title-deciding Wednesdays and Champions League-qualifying Saturdays.  Every week there would be Manchester United against Chelsea and the also-ran clubs, nuisance that they are so obviously considered to be, would be pushed further into the shadows.

Big club fans continue to clap along - and why wouldn’t they?  But for everybody else, there’s an unsettling feeling growing that, rather than actually being part of the show, our clubs are just faceless members of the competition’s chorus - and it doesn’t have to be that way and neither, clearly, should it.

Twenty Liverpool games and no more.  Twenty Manchester United games.  Twenty Arsenal games.

The league would not crumble - in fact, it would be far richer in every sense other than one which unfortunately seems to determine everything about it.