Change to Ligue 2 kick-off times
26 July ~ There is a new player in the French football television market and their entry into the field has been marked by controversy this summer. BeIn Sport, the recently created arm of Al Jazeera, have spent €330 million (£258.4m) to buy the rights to some Ligue 1, Ligue 2, Spanish League and Europa League games. They are making the headlines because the Friday night Ligue 2 programme they have the rights to has moved from last season's slot of 8pm to 6.45pm. It has been brought forward to avoid clashing with the new showpiece Friday night Ligue 1 match that BeIn Sport also have the rights to.
The new Ligue 2 kick-off time is not entirely the broadcaster's fault. The French League authorities (LFP) made a number of time slots available and the games were initially going to be at 6pm, which would have been even worse. The compromise has hardly appeased fans, officials and club presidents, who are angry games will be taking place so early on a working day.
"It shows a complete lack of respect for our supporters and commercial partners," Angers president Said Chabane said. "It poses a real threat in terms of fan numbers, and the loss of commercial opportunities will inevitably hit clubs' incomes."
His Clermont counterpart Claude Michy added: "For a 6.45pm kick-off, stewards and other volunteers will need to be at the ground at 4.45pm. How are they going to do that?" Michy wondered whether it would have been better to "stick with 8pm and turn down the €12m from BeIn Sport, which works out as €600,000 per club."
Fans across the country have united behind an "SOS Ligue 2" campaign. Banners and petitions protesting against 6.45pm kick-offs were prominent at pre-season matches. The campaign has received widespread media coverage plus support from prominent figures. At Lens, outgoing president Gervais Martel, manager Jean-Louis Garcia and sporting director Antoine Sibierski have all signed the petition.
Lens fan Pierre Revillon, who runs the independent Red Tigers supporters group, says attendances will be affected. "We normally have 300 season ticket holders. This season, we have 150. When you talk to members, kick-off times are mentioned all the time. Not everybody that follows Lens lives in Lens. We have fans that regularly come from Paris or Belgium. Getting to away games can mean half a day travelling. The new times make it very, very difficult."
When Ligue 2 kicks-off this Friday night the games will take place at 8.30pm because there's no Ligue 1 game to clash with. When Ligue 1 returns on August 10, 6.45pm will become the norm. Maybe if fans vote with their feet, the authorities will reconsider. James Eastham