BT Sport has not ruled out selecting Champions League teams who play on Wednesday for its single Saturday game, however, and would move the kick-off to a “prime evening slot” of 7.45pm. It is a move which may appease managers but is unlikely to sooth the frustrations of fans, particularly those away supporters who will have to travel home late from matches on Saturday nights.
The Independent understands a Premier League meeting was held on Wednesday night in which all 20 top-flight clubs agreed to the change.
Saturday evening games have become the norm this season as broadcasters have spaced out matches in order to show every game live during the pandemic, rather than clustering several games at 3pm on Saturday as is traditional. However, with games played behind closed doors there has been no inconvenience to travelling fans, and BT Sport and the Premier League risk a backlash among supporters who already feel the game’s major stakeholders do not adequately consider match-going fans – dubbed “legacy fans” in the controversial plans for the recent breakaway Super League.
Top coaches will be pleased, however. All four managers of English football’s Champions League clubs complained about 12.30pm kick-offs earlier this season. Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer described it as “an absolute joke” that his team had to play Everton at Goodison Park less than 72 hours after playing in Istanbul. Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp said only Champions League teams who play on Tuesday should be considered for Saturday’s 12.30pm kick-off, and Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola agreed. The then Chelsea manager Frank Lampard also complained, although his gripe was directed towards 12.30pm kick-offs after international breaks.
The news of BT Sport’s adjustment to the schedule comes as the Premier League announced an extension of its existing £5bn TV right deal until 2025. A government exclusion order enabled the league to circumnavigate competition rules which would have forced the rights be put up for tender, potentially losing hundreds of millions per year as broadcasters step back from aggressive campaigns to win the deals.
In a statement, BT Sport said: “BT Sport will continue the current schedule, kicking the weekend off with Saturday lunchtime fixtures plus bumper weeks of back to back and simultaneous mid-week fixtures. BT Sport will accommodate the new Premier League agreement around fixture congestion during UEFA Champions League weeks, with the BT Sport Saturday game moving to a prime evening slot of 7.45pm when teams involved have played in Europe on the prior Wednesday.”
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