Notice is welcome but Sky and EFL can still do better by fans as Middlesbrough pick highlights

Middlesbrough fans protest with a banner after their trip to Cardiff City was moved to 12.30 pm
-Credit: (Image: CameraSport - Ian Cook)

Sky Sports have made their first picks of games they will broadcast live as part of the new broadcast deal which comes into effect from the start of this season.

Said to be worth £179m annually, the new broadcast deal represents a 50% increase on the previous rights value for clubs and will see over 1,000 EFL games a season broadcast live each season. While there is bound to be some disruption as a result, it cannot be ignored that in the current climate, it's much-needed extra revenue for football clubs.

While all opening-day games are being broadcast live, Middlesbrough have today learned that three more of their Championship games in the opening two months of the campaign will also be broadcast live. There's little surprise the trip to Sunderland has been selected, while the trip to Derby County has a little needle given recent off-field disagreements between the two clubs.

READ MORE: Middlesbrough's schedule for the first two months confirmed as three more games are picked for TV

But it is the third of Sky's picks that causes the biggest disruption for supporters, with the broadcaster choosing to move Boro's trip to Cardiff City to a 12.30 pm kick-off on Saturday, August 31. For Boro fans, getting to the Wales capital is roughly a five-and-a-half-hour drive, and a 586-mile round trip in total.

The fixture was previously chosen for this broadcast slot back in 2021 and Middlesbrough supporters made their discontent known on that day too. Holding up a banner at the Cardiff City Stadium, it read: "12.30 pm kick-off, 570 miles. Sky - putting fans last."

Sky have committed, as part of the new broadcast deal, to offer more notice to supporters to lessen the impact of what is set to be a campaign of far more change. Five Championship games from 12 will be moving every weekend for TV coverage, with an obligation to show every side at least 24 times over the course of the season.

In the majority of cases that shouldn't be much more than a minor inconvenience that most will accept in the knowledge that the club are profiting as a result of the TV selection. The extra notice offers supporters the chance to better organise their travel for such games with a greater degree of clarity.

However, the Cardiff game highlights that Sky and the EFL's commitment to supporters could go further - with a 12.30 pm kick-off in South Wales far more than a minor inconvenience for Boro fans. The second time in recent years this fixture as had such a kick-off time, Boro fans are going to be faced with the prospect of leaving on official coaches at around 5.30 am or heading down the day before with the added expense of a hotel room for the evening.

Clubs and local authorities are always consulted about fixtures changes, while the EFL and safety advisory groups also approve any alterations. Sky insist they are committed to making broadcast selections well in advance to allow fans to make necessary travel arrangements, which is part of their aim to give supporters six months’ notice for the majority of games this season.

While this isn't quite six months notice owing to fixtures only actually coming out last week, the notice period isn't so much the issue here - it's the distance of travel. While that doesn't change based on the kick-off time, what a 3 pm kick-off time offers supporters is the chance to set off at a reasonable hour and, in the event they do the game in a day, still make it home at a reasonable hour too. A 12.30 pm kick-off does not offer that.

While Boro will have been consulted, the difficulty for the club to turn down the TV slot and the revenue that comes with it, is obvious. Particularly having complained to Sky about a lack of coverage a couple of years ago, Boro would not want to be seen as being awkward.

They naturally want to be shown as much as possible on Sky to reap the financial rewards at a time where generating more revenue has never been more important. PSR has been high on the thoughts of many supporters after a dramatic fortnight in English football.

What's particularly frustrating is that it doesn't even appear to be that difficult a solution though. While Boro will obviously prefer to take the broadcast money, this game is one that could have quite easily been ignored. Not selected for live coverage that weekend, by way of obvious alternative from the Sky perspective, is Hull City's trip to Leeds United.

Failing that, if the logistics of trying to offer a fair spread of teams shown live across the season meant this game had to be picked, Sky could have given it the Sunday 3 pm slot to limit the disruption for travelling supporters. Travelling times would have made that a comfortable, making it easy to be back in good time without needing to take time off work the next day, without the need to set off at a ridiculous time in the morning either. Instead, that TV slot went to Sheffield United-Watford, a journey that in comparison to Boro-Cardiff takes roughly three hours.

While the new TV deal between Sky and the EFL offers many advantages for football clubs and better elements for the supporter, the Cardiff-Boro pick highlights that more can still be done to help supporters, who no matter what, should always be the number one priority.