Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Unbalanced Schedule

After watching a few Premiership games last weekend, I really got to thinking about something. If anyone saw Portsmouth's 1-0 win at Blackburn, they would've seen almost 12,000 empty seats (offical attendance: 19,506; stadium capacity: 31,367), and there's nothing that takes the life and energy out of a game, in any sport, more so than nobody in the stands to watch it. I'm not sure how this policy works in England, but here in America the "official attendance" reflects tickets sold and not the actual number of people who went to the game, so it's likely that there weren't even 19,500 at Ewood Park on Sunday to watch a game between two European contenders.

Attendance is also, generally speaking, embarrassingly low at Middlesbrough, relatively low at Manchester City, Bolton, and Newcastle. However, when those teams play their respective derbies against natural rivals, the stadiums sell out and the atmosphere is second-to-none. It's the games that feature two teams on different sides of the country that don't draw well (Blackburn against Portsmouth, for instance). Fans of the teams that aren't in the "Big Four", Portsmouth, Tottenham, or Fulham, simply don't come out for those kinds of games, and it's understandable why. Who cares about a Middlesbrough-West Ham game?? I'm not going to spend my hard-earned money on an inflated ticket price to watch that borefest when I could watch it on TV for free. Only the diehard fans will come see that match; they'll go to any match. Diehard fans make up the minority of supporters. It's the casual, jump-on-the-bandwagon fan that represents the fan base that the marketing team goes after.

What's the solution, you ask? There probably is no solution; the way it is now is the way it probably will always be. What I'd like to see, however, is a system modeled after the schedule that the NBA, NHL, MLB, and NFL all use: an unbalanced schedule. There's always the argument, and it's a valid one, particularly regarding MLB, that too much of a good thing takes the novelty out of it. The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, geographic rivals and historic rivals, play each other 18 times in a 162-game regular season. That's too many times; it dilutes the product. It's the idea that these American professional leagues have in place that makes sense though. Games between rivals should be promoted. Fans love derbies in England. There's nothing better than a Liverpool-Everton game or a Manchester United-Manchester City match. It's a shame that they only play twice a season and Everton, for example, play Portsmouth, on the opposite side of England, twice as well.

Derbies and other rivalry games (Chelsea-Reading, Manchester United-Portsmouth, for example) should be played three times a season, with a game against some other far-off opponent trimmed off the schedule. Summed up: Rivalries-(3), "Regular/Normal" games---Blackburn-Newcastle, Everton-Derby, etc.---(2), games in the Newcastle-West Ham, Blackburn-Fulham, Liverpool-Sunderland vein-(1). Teams that are involved in three games with an opponent would alternate years hosting two out of those three, so one year, Manchester United would play City at Old Trafford twice, the next year, United would come to the City of Manchester Stadium twice.

But Michael, what about the London teams? There's five of them (Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, West Ham, and Fulham), so three games against each team would total 12 games out of 38 and that's too many. You can argue with me all you want, but the only meaningful London derbies are Chelsea-Arsenal, Arsenal-Tottenham, and Fulham-Chelsea. If you're not involved in one of those, you play your fellow London club twice a season.

Every Premiership team would still have to play every other Premiership team at least once a season, this isn't like the NHL where an Eastern Conference team goes all 82 games without seeing some of the teams in the West.

Sure, I know you'll say this isn't fair, and it's not fair. But since when are the Premiership and the FA concerned with being fair? Was it fair when West Ham escaped without a points penalty for the Carlos Tevez fiasco? Was it fair when they decided to share the revenue in a fashion that practically ensures that the only teams with a realistic chance to win the Premiership are the "Big Four"?

Playing these rivalry games and derbies three times a season would bring more attention and interest to the fans, and when it comes down to it, the fans are what every sport is about. Fans of Middlesbrough would rather see their club face Newcastle three times a year than Fulham twice. It's depressing to see these half-filled stadiums on a weekend. Promote the rivalries, it's good for the fans and good for the game.

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