It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view, wrote George Eliot. That approach is needed as football fans seethe and vent over news that next week’s Scottish Cup replays will not be televised due to Uefa constraints and the uncompromising desire to leave the stage clear for Champions League football.
It means thousands queued up at Easter Road and Tynecastle to ensure they get the chance to see what unfolds as their teams meet on Tuesday to finish what they started in Gorgie last weekend. It means thousands more will be bereft as their wheeling and dealing amounts to nothing and they are left on the outside, with no means of looking in.
There is one solution: scrap the replays. The fixture list is congested enough and Britain is the last bastion of the two-match process
Although the scramble for tickets will be less intense, there will still be disappointment for some that round two of the tussle between Kilmarnock and Rangers cannot be watched from the comfort of their sofa. Those frustrated fans deserve sympathy. But, before things get magnified to the extremes, there is still the chance to zoom back out, alter the perspective and ponder the bigger picture.
While the Scottish FA has borne some of the brunt of the supporters’ frustration, with almost three-quarters of Hearts’ season-ticket holders set to be shut out of the capital derby replay, the majority of the ire has been reserved for Uefa.
While both Sky and BBC could have split the ties, bolstering their viewing numbers and satisfying the demands of those without the loyalty points needed to secure the golden ticket, the fact that the cup replays clash with Champions League fixtures means they cannot take up those options.
Uefa rules dictate that no other major domestic match can be scheduled on a Champions League date – with the exception of cup replays. But the caveat stops short of granting permission for these matches to be televised. For Uefa that would be a step too far and prising open that can of worms would prove an expensive precedent. Pertinently, though, it wouldn’t be just costly to the men in the corridors of power looking for a cosy existence, but to football across Europe, from grassroots to league level and up to the national team.
With the agreement to steer clear of the Champions League fixture dates comes financial remuneration. Some will call it a bribe, others will see it as a way to compensate nations who have little input, especially in the latter stages of the illustrious competition, but are unable to get on with making money in their own backyard. Last season, that Uefa solidarity payment amounted to around £2 million for Scottish clubs, which puts into the shade the projected £80,000 being missed out on by both Edinburgh clubs as a result of the TV blackout. Clubs who flout the rules risk being fine and when it comes to protecting their prestige event/cash cow (delete where applicable) Uefa has shown a willingness to get tough.
The English FA thought itself above the rules, ignoring the warnings, citing fixture congestion and ploughing on with the scheduling of games whenever it suited them. In 2013 they were fined £42,000 as a consequence and saw their £1.1m solidarity payment withheld.
To be fair the blow was probably cushioned by a TV deal that really does set itself out as god and arbitrator down south. For all we think that TV props up the game here, the big- pocketed father, dishing out pocket money to all the game’s dependants, that is not the case. For all the SPFL herald new deals, as if they are the only lifeblood, there is also the small matter of around £50m over four years which is dolled out by Uefa, who do earn massively thanks to the Champions League TV deal which is astronomical due to the exclusivity broadcaster BT Sport is afforded. BT knows it will not face competition from a rival broadcaster airing a more tantalising game and pay big for this peace of mind.
While the capital derby will be the biggest game in the universe for those seeking tickets, even Uefa would probably acknowledge it is unlikely to trouble BT’s viewing figures if Sky were to get the go ahead. But it would open a door and instead of watching Benfica v Zenit St Petersburg sometime in the future, they could be up against a Manchester derby or a Copa del Rey encounter between Real Madrid and Barcelona. Given the worldwide audiences, that could prove a major clash.
For Uefa it is all about protecting the brand and seeing the bigger picture. Without the brand, there’s less income, without that cashflow, grassroots football as well as the elite suffer.
There is one solution, though. Scrap the replays. The fixture list is congested enough and given that Britain is the last bastion of the two-match process, a fact highlighted by an incredulous Jurgen Klopp earlier this season, why bother? Surely the excitement factor rises if games are played to a finish and TV companies would have free reign? Or is the uncomfortable truth that clubs who could change the rules on replays prefer not to because they like the idea of stashing the extra income that comes with a second tie? If that’s the case, then maybe the punters need to reassess who has their best interests at heart and who is putting money first?