For many a year, Friday nights have been regarded as the prime time for League of Ireland football matches to take place, so when it was announced last year that the Premier League in England would start broadcasting some of their matches on a Friday, the reaction from hardcore Irish football fans was totally understandable.
However, many pundits involved in the league down through the years were quick to point out that if League of Ireland clubs can’t compete with the odd mid table clash from the Premier League in England and sell itself to the Irish public the blame would lie with the clubs themselves and no one else (bar maybe the FAI).
Recently, Roy Keane came out in defence of the domestic league by stating that the sporting public of Ireland shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss and talk down the national competition considering the amount of international talent that has come out of it, particularly in recent years.
Perhaps Derry City’s chief executive Sean Barrett should have taken the advice of ”Keano” as his statement earlier this week, in which he pleaded with the FAI to change City’s kick-off time on Friday in order to avoid clashing with Manchester United’s TV game, was nothing short of pathetic and defeatist from a club of proud tradition and success within Irish football.
In said statement, comments were made on the increasing difficultly for League of Ireland clubs to find a suitable slot to market their games with English football on Sky on Monday nights, European football taking centre stage on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and now the Premier League was invading the traditional League of Ireland Friday game days.
It’s something the league are going to have a serious look at for next season because Manchester United, Arsenal and teams like that playing on a Friday night, are going to affect the crowds – there’s no doubt about that.
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The reaction from followers of the domestic game on social media was understandably comical with others angry at the way the league was being portrayed as a result of this statement.
While there can be no denying that Friday night Premier League games are yet another obstacle for League of Ireland clubs to overcome in the ever growing difficult battle to remain afloat financially, it is now the responsibility of Irish clubs to find new and innovative ways to attract new supporters to their grounds.
Credit has been fast flowing for First Division clubs Wexford Youths and Finn Harps this week for their social media and public relations spin on the whole Sky Sports versus League of Ireland situation, while the likes of Cork City and Cabinteely have shown that with professional marketing plans in place, the league can be marketed as a viable alternative option to the Irish sporting public.
It really has been a poor, poor week in terms of public relations for the Candystripes with opposition fans for Friday night’s game (Dundalk) initially being told their busses’ safety could not be guaranteed as anti social behaviour issues continue to plague the Brandywell area. As a result, gate receipts will he hit hard as the Champions travel in much smaller numbers than usually anticipated.
While meetings were held on Monday to resolve this issue, which may I point out is far from the club’s fault but more realistically a complicated policing issue, these are exactly the sort of headlines that are damaging the League of Ireland far more than any Friday night television show.
If our clubs want to be taken seriously they must take themselves seriously and display a professional attitude to potential new fans, and that is the main message that came out of this week’s off-field events in County Derry.