The Insider - The story behind the fixture lists

17 June 2011 10:54
Today sees the release of the fixtures lists of the four primary leagues in both England and Scotland. However, unbeknown to most football fans a legal battle has been raging for over half century as to the exact nature of how the League fixture lists are compiled in England and Scotland. I won’t bore you with the fine detail; suffice to say that in its simplest form the argument is this:

Are the League’s fixture list a ‘piece of literary work’ produced with skill and knowledge or is it a simple random draw as with the FA Cup?

Why should this matter you may ask, well it won’t surprise you to learn that the root of the issue is money – yes, I can feel the shock wave vibrate around the world! The outcome of a random draw cannot be said to be the work or property of any person or organisation, whereas a literary work has to, by definition, involve the skill, input or expertise of at least one individual.

The Leagues, through their jointly owned company Football DataCo, wish to charge every newspaper, magazine, website, mobile operator and bookmaker a not unsubstantial sum for a licence to use/publish the fixtures. An amount that these organisations would rather not pay. In order for them to do this, the fixture lists need to fall under the latter definition of ‘literary works’.

So what is the process that they have been arguing about for all these years? Well there is an element of random generation, but not before a number of rules are followed are set, these include:

FIFA set their international calendar, UEFA set the timings for the Champions League and the Europa League and finally the FA, Football League, SFA & Scottish League set the dates for their domestic competitions

Every club has a geographical pair - Liverpool and Everton, United and City, Arsenal and Spurs etc. – and these clubs will never play at home on the same weekend

No team shall play more than two consecutive home or away fixtures

All clubs have a geographical code and this code is used to try and ensure that on each public holiday clubs will play a team within easy reach of themselves - Any fans who have set off at 0630 on a Boxing Day morning to watch their team play 300 miles away will know that this is not foolproof

Individual exclusion dates are input so that matches do not clash with other established non-football events (The Goose Fair in Nottingham or the Notting Hill Carnival)

Once these rules are fed into the fixtures generator, the big red button is pressed and a chronological list for all eight divisions is produced. But this is not the end of it, the police will study the draft lists and if there are too many high profile games in their jurisdiction over any one weekend, then they will ask for re-arrangement. Then any August midweek games for teams in the qualifying rounds of European competitions are postponed, but generally not rearranged immediately before finally, a few weeks, later the people at Sky Sports and ESPN choose their live matches up until the end of November and the ‘final’ list is produced.

Looking at the process it seems difficult to see how the process could ever be compared to a random cup draw, but where there are lawyers there are always legal arguments – database rights, ability to copyright, investment of time to name but three – and so the argument goes on. It has been to court, to appeal, back to court, to the Lords and now is being studied by the EUs finest legal minds, but still we are no clearer. There may be a decision by the end of next year; however given I have heard that since phrase every year since the turn of the Millennium, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Source: DSG

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