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The Riverside Rule

Monday 27th June 2011
Apologies to Boro fans, but I am afraid that the empty seats at the Riverside Stadium was my main inspiration. Not that I haven't noticed a similar situation at the DW Stadium and other grounds across the country but the Middlesbrough was the first Premiership team I noticed growing up.

All sorts of changes to the rules and regulations of football have been proposed and in some cases enforced in recent years. Goal-line technology, FIFA Financial Fair Play and the home grown rules to name but a few. However, one thing that does get my blood boiling is empty seats. For example in situations like when a team bags a promotion and at the start of the season the stadium is jam packed, only for when the team start performing poorly, the club struggle to fill seats.

I am a keen follower of the NFL and have been for some time, and there is a rule that punishes fans that choose to abandon their teams in times of need. A blackout policy for want of a better term. How it works is that if a team fails to sell-out a home game before 72 hours before kick off a broadcast blackout is imposed on all stations inside a 75 mile radius. This means that fans that would prefer to stay at home to watch their ailing team cannot and instead are forced to watch another game or watch the alternative programming provided.

I would like to see something like this implemented in the Premier League, a league that is supposedly the most supported in the world. If a club fails to sell out their tickets for a game or at the very least reach say, 75% capacity, then television stations should be forbidden to show the live broadcast or highlights country-wide, being as England is so small compared to America. If fans don't want to travel to the match, then why should they be able to watch from home? They can somehow afford to do it when the team is doing well... are they suddenly worse off when they perform badly?

And if it is the ticket prices that is the issue then clubs should be rewarded for attempting to get fans in the ground. Better family deals perhaps, or maybe something like a loyalty card you get in shops, restaurants and supermarkets. For every 10 games you get a 20% discount at the club shop or a free ticket, something like that.

I know what you must be thinking. What about the away supporters? Fans should be able to sign up for a free 'away season ticket' at the start of the season with the Premier League that allows them to watch highlights of all their teams away games online just in case they are 'blacked out'. You can only sign up for one team per email address and watch each set of highlights just once. If someone really wants to make 20 email addresses to get all the games then that's their prerogative, but that's a lot of hassle and no system is perfect - look at the offside rule.

As for the Sky games, there is a system in America that takes their equivalent into account also, they are called flex games. Meaning that if they feel a game is likely to be 'blacked out'  particularly in the second half of the season, they can opt to change the live game to something more appealing. Who would want to see 11th vs 12th when their is a perfectly good 2nd vs 6th on the same weekend? However this can only be changed if a team doesn't meet the required capacity. If West Brom (11th) vs Newcastle (12th) can get the fans in no harm, no foul.

Clubs should get all the TV money that is owed to them at the start of the season, this rule is to punish 'fairweather fans', not the clubs. This should also give the clubs something to think about when they want to build big, expensive and fancy new stadiums they can't fill.

The Premier League is the most supported league in the world -let's prove it.

Follow me on Twitter @robert__hayes
Rob Hayes

Total articles: 4

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