Where Now For The Football League Show?

After a long, expensive journey across the country to see your Football League outfit beaten convincingly, you’d be forgiven for questioning your continued loyalty. On the plus side; at least you’ll get to see your team play on The Football League Show, right? Well unfortunately it now looks a distinct possibility that you won’t.

Although the BBC have said the decision to ditch the highlights programme is not yet final and that they are in fact in negotiations with the Football League, widespread reports suggest that this rumour increasingly looks like becoming a reality. So what would this mean for Football League clubs? And why is it getting axed, despite its obvious popularity to fans across the country?

“In the media and the commercial side of the club it is a blowâ€?, says Steve Uttley, head of Media and Communications at Doncaster Rovers. “Once again it means less coverage for clubs which then impacts on our commercial customers. So unless you are one of the clubs in the Championship that seems to feature live every other week; Doncaster FC will now lose valuable coverage.â€?

The Football League Show has been running since 2009, is presented by Manish Bhasin and often features guests such as Steve Claridge(both seen above). Fears first came about when, on Boxing Day, the show was off-air as the BBC instead opted to show The Guardian, leading Bhasin to tweet to fans: “I feel your frustrationâ€?. As expected, the fans have not taken to kindly to the prospect of losing it. On the Torquay fans website, many expressed their anger towards the trusted broadcasting service.

“It’s funny this – I can’t remember the BBC slashing the cost of my TV licence?!â€? writes one fan. “Sickening blow to League Football once again,â€? laments another, placing emphasis on the struggle league football has in maintaining mainstream interest. Even a Facebook group has recently started, titled: “If the Football League show is cancelled, Match of the day should go as wellâ€?. A bit strong, but none the less the anger is justified.

This is, after all, a show that is watched eagerly by around two million people every Saturday night, despite starting at 23:45. In Britain there are 92 professional teams and should the show get the axe, we will only get to see 20. As Britain’s most popular sport, this is uninspiring to say the least. Throw in the fact that MOTD2 and MOTD3 are showing no signs of jeopardy and a lack of parity becomes apparent.

When I spoke to Deano Standing, Head of Media at Millwall FC, he pointed out to me that the Championship has regularly been the 4th or 5th most supported league in Europe, far outdoing those of say the Dutch or Belgian League. “We get a lot of interest from abroadâ€?, he said. “Fans come to see us from Holland, Sweden and all over Europe plus foreign journalists as well. They view the Championship as being very important because of how followed it isâ€?. As such, the decision to remove coverage could be quite embarrassing. What does it say when a league which has such overseas popularity, is not even accessible to the country that provides it? So should it get the axe, what does this say about the Football League?

Leicester score against Standing's beloved Millwall, but you might not be able to catch the action on BBC next year

“If you look at most coverage it is Premier League drivenâ€? Standing continued. “Football coverage is 90% to do with the Premier League and it makes an assumption that that’s all people are interested in. Obviously it would be disappointing if the BBC made this decision. There are a huge number of far less popular programmes, in terms of viewers, that are being left in particular. It’s not as if the BBC are showing large amounts of football anywayâ€?.

Back In 2007, the BBC won the rights to show football from the Football League. At the time, director of BBC Sport Roger Mosey said: “Our aim in the three seasons of our agreement is a simple one: to showcase the new acquisition across all our platforms, and to make our commitment to football deeper and stronger at every levelâ€?. So what has happened to this commitment? Is it the BBC deciding to walk away from the Football League, or is it the Football League walking away from the BBC?

According to the Radio Times, its contract with the BBC expires this summer and because of BBC budgeting cuts it will not be renewed. The BBC is undergoing a state of uncertainty at the moment. It has had to slash its spending budget by 15% per cent and things looked even bleaker when it lost its sole rights to show Formula One, now having to share them with Sky. But it is very disappointing that the BBC would stack this so low on their list of priorities, with so many other shows that I won’t mention getting the nod.

When we called up the BBC, they said: “Our position remains that we are not axing The Football League Show and it will run till the end of the seasonâ€?. Worryingly, they refuse to comment on where its future lies after the end of this season. Furthermore; there are no signs to suggest that anyone else will be taking it on.

Not everyone agrees that its rumoured axe is a bad thing though; and not necessarily non-football fans with an opportunity to scorn their snooty views on football. Sam, a Coventry fan, tells me: “FLS is never on until late, goals express on Sky Sports News is becoming a much easier way to see your team goalsâ€?. More so, John Stafford tweets: “Goodbye Football League show, you will not be missedâ€?, a fair view but not a representation of overall opinion.

Ultimately; the gap between the billionaire-owned teams of the Premier League and the Championship is increasing. Circumstances at Portsmouth and Darlington prove this point and it was the Football League Show that brought a fresh air of optimism, optimism that football is a sport where all levels are important. Imagine a world where only the top 20 of everything was accessible? For example in the film industry: you only had access to those ranked in the top 20? Or journalism: where you could only read material published by journalists considered in the top 20 as well? Football deserves better than to be cut off at such a point and so do clubs within the Football League.