Danny Hall: Maybe Sky isn’t the limit as Sheffield United fans stand up to TV giants

Fans are the lifeblood of the game - but are they overlooked when Sky TV pick their games?
Fans are the lifeblood of the game - but are they overlooked when Sky TV pick their games?
  • Sky switched Sheffield United’s game at Southend from Easter Monday, at 3pm, to 7.45pm the following Wednesday night
  • Switch left many fans inconvenienced and out of pocket - and they decided they’d had enough
  • The Blades’ Big Sky Bill was subsequently created on Twitter, and an invoice for over £7,000 was issued to Sky
  • The campaign has attracted nationwide interest and organisers hope it will lead to more fans having their say
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Bad Pyrmont is a town in the district of Hamelin-Pyrmont, Germany, with a population close to 19,000 and a reputation as an excellent spa destination. A vapor cave, where therapeutic carbon dioxide vapors emerge, is a unique attraction. Max Born, a physicist and Nobel Prize winner somehow better known as the grandfather of Olivia Newton-John, was also born there.

Bad Pyrmont is an interesting place home to some interesting people, including Marcus Geiss; an attorney at a German law firm in Munich, and a diehard Sheffield United supporter.

That’s football, right there. Take the man away from the club, but try taking the club away from the man.

Back in May, Marcus put his allegiances aside slightly to cheer on Southend in the League Two play-off final, which they duly won on penalties after equalising in the last minute of injury time.

The reason? Marcus has family in Southend and saw it as an opportunity to see his beloved Blades and his ‘foreign’ family. Two birds, one stone. Then the fixtures came out and he was beside himself with joy. Bank Holiday Monday.

“I could NOT have arranged it any better myself if I had tried,” Marcus said.

Local artist Luke Prest is helping front the Big Blades Sky Bill campaign

Local artist Luke Prest is helping front the Big Blades Sky Bill campaign

“School holidays, wife and kids likely over at their aunts’... a perfect short trip. Older kids with me in the Blades end, the younger ones in the more sedate home end. A perfect family day, a perfect first match for several of them, with a bit of local flavour added.”

Then Sky TV intervened. The game will now kick off at 7.45pm on a Wednesday night, after being switched for live television. Marcus may still make the game but his three little boys, aged eight, four and two, will not.

READ MORE: Blades send £7,000 bill to Sky over fixture switch

“Kids at the game, pre-match drinks with the London Blades before Chinese food at night, lots of memories made on a free day... all gone at short notice,” he adds.

I couldn’t have arranged it any better if I’d tried... the Blades in Southend on Bank Holiday Monday, a perfect family day, a perfect first match for several of them. But Sky’s ridiculous decision has ruined this perfect weekend for my family and me.

German Blade Marcus Geiss

“For a game that no-one in a million years would have considered at risk of being moved.

“This ridiculous decision has ruined this perfect weekend for my family and me.”

Marcus’ story was highlighted through the ‘The Blades’ Big Sky Bill’, a campaign aimed at securing compensation for fans left out of pocket thanks to Sky’s decision to switch the game.

Seven grand doesn’t buy you a great deal in a modern football world where pounds and pence seemingly take priority over possession and points. But that’s the value ‘The Blades’ Big Sky Bill’ puts on decency and principle; £7,271.50, to be exact.

Games on TV never produce the same moments - but are often a cheaper and more convenient way to watch your team

Games on TV never produce the same moments - but are often a cheaper and more convenient way to watch your team

Organisers of the movement are skeptical as to whether they’ll receive any cash back - and if they do, it’ll go to a nominated Sheffield charity - but the message is clear. They’re fed up with being treated with contempt rather than consideration, and want to do something about it.

This isn’t, of course, a problem unique to Sheffield United. Leicester’s clash with Arsenal, which could go some way towards determining the destination of the Premier League, has been moved at three week’s notice.

Sky obviously doubted Leicester’s staying power but when the decision was first made about live games. Leicester were top of the league, with Arsenal second. A more obvious televised game, it’s hard to imagine.

Spurs faced Leicester in an FA Cup replay earlier this month and 20 minutes before the deadline for away tickets, fans still didn’t know what date the game would be played. Leeds United even tried to ban Sky’s cameras from Elland Road recently. True, English football was happy to take Sky’s money and yes, he who pays the piper calls the tune. But maybe, just maybe, campaigns like this will help change the melody.

“The main aim is to make voices heard,” local artist Luke Prest, one of the voices behind the movement, said.

“And we’ve been taken aback by the response. Less than 24 hours after posting, the letter and invoice has approached 12,000 views and we’ve also had words of encouragement from across the traditional football divides - even Wednesdayites are backing us!

Sky have switched United's game at Southend from Easter Monday to a Wednesday evening

Sky have switched United's game at Southend from Easter Monday to a Wednesday evening

“It remains to be seen whether Sky will cough up - I’m not holding my breath - but if nothing else we’ve made a strong point. Hopefully, fans of other clubs will follow suit and, little by little, we can start to make our voices heard as a collective.

“Nothing ever changed without action - even if it’s ultimately futile.”

So, what’s the point of switching the game to Wednesday? It’s not about money; United will receive £10,000 as the away team, Southend £30,000 as the hosts. They’ll also lose out on ticket sales, beer money and support on the night.

Fans will suffer from useless hotel rooms with non-cancellation policies and extra days off work; a group of 12 Blades have seen their plan to fly back from England’s game against Germany, to Southend, scuppered.

Sky, who pump over £5billion into English football, can hardly expect a worthwhile return on their investment from this game, either.

It’s hard to see who wins in this scenario. Spotting those who will lose out, is a hell of a lot easier.