Birmingham City chairman David Gold has launched a withering attack on television schedulers who he believes are jeopardising the club’s chances of promotion in forcing them to play at times more suited to ‘park football’.
By the time Birmingham play Burnley on April 7 they will have gone four months without playing a league match at St Andrew’s on a Saturday and nine home matches since they kicked off at the traditional time of 3pm.
That last occasion came on December 9 when they beat Preston North End 3-1 since when their supporters have had to turn up on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays — with two games even starting at 11.30am.
Gold is irritated that Birmingham have had more than their fair share of moved kick-offs and that they are being penalised for their success.
He also claims there is no benefit to the club and that there needs to be a rethink about how many games teams are asked by television company BSkyB to reschedule.
"It is the price to be paid for being a football club that television wants to broadcast because it's there or thereabouts at the top of the table," Gold said.
"We would not have this problem if we were in the middle of the division. We expected a few to be changed but we have had more than our share.
"It is disruptive, it is not good for corporate or fans and I believe the players would prefer to be playing at three o'clock on a Saturday. It's very difficult for everybody, the players, the manager, the fans — everybody."
He was also anxious to correct the assumption that clubs are handsomely rewarded for moving kick-off times. As things stand Birmingham received #70,000 for every televised match, #10,000 of which goes to the away team.
When games are played on a Sunday morning, as those with Stoke City and Cardiff City in recent weeks, the drop in attendances has a damaging impact. This, he says, not only has a deleterious effect on Birmingham’s business and sporting interests but on the sport as a whole.
"Pub sides play at 11.30 on a Sunday morning not Championship-chasing clubs who are fighting for promotion," he said. "If you're playing at 11.30 in the morning there is no doubt that the home side is the loser financially and technically as well.
"If we have to play at 11.30 I would rather play away because the opposition would be without 5,000 fans. As things stand the benefit to the away team is #10,000 and they get to play Birmingham City in a half-empty stadium — psychologically that's important.
"Football clubs dread playing at Birmingham City in front of a full house of 30,000 but they love it when they come here and there's only 15,000. It is like playing Sunday football in the park, the benefit to the home side evaporates."
Birmingham played against Stoke in front of their smallest league crowd of the season and had real trouble breaking their opponents down. That led to protests from supporters, admittedly as much about ticket prices as kick-off times, and criticism of manager Steve Bruce.
In the Premiership Birmingham would appear in fewer televised matches and receive ten times as much for doing so. "Hopefully in the future it will not bother us because we will be in the Premier League but if we are still in the Championship it is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. The current plan does not work," Gold said.
"If we are in the Premiership we're not going to be on television as much, they will go for the big clubs like Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal or Liverpool and even when you are on you are richly rewarded which compensates for the reduction in income."
The #60,000 net they receive from BSkyB could be as much as #600,000 in the top flight.
Birmingham pair Damien Johnson and Maik Taylor are in the Northern Ireland squad for European Championship qualifiers with Liechtenstein and Sweden.
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