(FC United general manager)
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TELEVISION and football makes for a bittersweet relationship, the vast sums of money that TV companies are willing to pay for broadcasting matches reflects the popularity of the sport.
TV has helped lift the profile and exposure of the game to an all-time high - but there is a downside, with the match-going supporter left guessing on what day and at what time a match is to take place.
The Northern Premier League has struck a deal for showing matches over the Internet with specialist broadcaster lnvision.
The deal has been in place for a couple of years with clubs in the league benefiting from the odd game being shown on the web.
Without any warning or explanation, Invision and the league decided that this weekend was the right time to broadcast a live Saturday match.
UEFA rules debar matches being broadcast between 14:45 and 17:15 so a proposal was made to change the kick-off time to 12:45.
The chosen game was FC United of Manchester's away game at Curzon Ashton Both clubs objected to the change but the league imposed the decision regardless.
As new members of the league and aware of problems caused by TV deals elsewhere, FC United met with league officials in July to ask about details of the league's obligations to the TV company.
League officials gave assurances that games would not be moved for TV without the agreement of the competing clubs.
The league now denies that any assurances were given and have refused to discuss the matter further.
As a result of these assurances not being maintained and because the league ignored the express wishes of both clubs, the board of FC United reluctantly asked for supporters to attend the reserve fixture instead of going to the first team game.
As a members-owned club it is not surprising that supporters heeded the call, with 467 attending the reserve fixture and just a handful travelling to Curzon Ashton.
The stand taken by FC United's board has been criticised by some for being narrow-minded and interpreted as a failure to embrace the opportunity to gain the exposure offered by TV.
Nothing could be further from the truth. We are aware of how important TV is to the game; the publicity it generates and the cash revenues are vital ingredients.
Our objection is that assurances we believe we were given have been reneged upon and that the league has failed to explain why it was necessary to inconvenience supporters.
The evaporation of these assurances follows a similar pattern to the broken promises made when the top flight started to have more games televised.
One thousand supporters attending a game at our level will generate in the region of £10,000 through gate revenue, catering, bar spend etc.
This income needs to be protected and built upon not risked in pursuit of an as yet unproven Internet audience.
Supporters of our club travel in numbers; they are embraced by some, viewed with suspicion by others and seen as ripe for exploitation by a few.
When we left the North West Counties League, one league official, who opposed our acceptance two years previously, explained that he had a change of heart and recognised the benefit our supporters had brought to clubs in the league, generating 1250,000 a season for member clubs and the same again for the pubs and takeaways around the region.
In chasing a greater exposure for the Non-League game, our administrators need to be careful not to lose the existing audience with a disruption to kick-offs experienced higher up the Pyramid. Non-League clubs struggle to attract enough spectators through the gate so the exposure offered by TV is attractive and the numbers quoted for viewing figures can be seductive, but it is the fan that turns up week in, week out that should be cherished.
The match-going fan generates cash every week. The TV companies hope to raise revenue off the back of their coverage because advertisers wish to expose their Products to these supporters.
We are not burying our heads in the sand and recognise that some disruption to kick-off times is the inevitable price paid for the money given by the TV companies.
But the wishes of match-going fans must be paramount - otherwise what are we here for?
NLP Sunday, 30 December 2007