Monday, May 27, 2024

Klopp, TNT Sports and early kick-offs – what’s the beef?

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The “old man on his way out” has no intention of leaving quietly.

Jurgen Klopp might be in his final days as Liverpool manager but, in keeping with much of a reign that began in 2015, he still has plenty to say.

Before facing Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League on Sunday, Klopp used his pre-match press conference to take aim at television broadcasters — in particular, TNT Sports.

A week on from drawing 2-2 at West Ham United on Saturday lunchtime, a result that finally ended any realistic hopes of winning the title, Klopp called the scheduling problems within English football ”absolutely insane”.

“That they dared to give us Thursday, Sunday, Wednesday, Saturday 12:30pm (7:30am ET) is a crime,” said Klopp, who asked to be taken off the list of TNT subscribers. “I was actually waiting for Amnesty International to go to them!”

The Athletic analyses Klopp’s parting shots – their origins, meaning and whether his pleas for change may work.

Inside Klopp’s departure from Liverpool…

This isn’t the first time Klopp has clashed with TV companies, is it?

Absolutely not. Klopp has often looked like a man howling at the moon on this issue, bemoaning Liverpool’s status as the most popular pick for Saturday lunchtimes.

No Premier League team has been asked to kick off at 12:30pm as often as Liverpool (six times) this season, although their record at that time is strong, with 14 points representing almost a fifth of Liverpool’s overall tally this season.

How 12:30pm kick-offs break down in 2023-24

That is part of a longer-term pattern. Liverpool have had 41 lunchtime kick-offs since the start of 2016-17, just ahead of Tottenham and five more than Manchester City. All of Liverpool’s 12:30 kick-offs in this period have been on a Saturday.

Most 12.30pm kick-offs since 2016-17

Klopp’s issue has never really been with 12:30pm Saturday games but rather being asked to play them after a Wednesday fixture, as they were last week when travelling to West Ham less than three days after losing 2-0 at Everton. Being allocated the same slot immediately after an international break, with non-European players given little time to readjust, has also been a bugbear.

TNT Sports, formerly BT Sport until a rebrand last summer, has routinely been the broadcaster in Klopp’s crosshairs as the company holding the domestic rights for Saturday lunchtime games.

Klopp clashed with Des Kelly, the channel’s lead interviewer, in November 2020 following Liverpool’s 1-1 draw away to Brighton & Hove Albion. “I don’t know how often I can say it, you picked the 12:30 kick-off,” said Klopp at the start of a lengthy back-and-forth with Kelly that was broadcast live.

Klopp has revisited this before his penultimate game at Anfield. “I would like to once be part of that meeting where somebody says, ‘Liverpool 12:30’, and the whole room is bursting into laughter: ‘Again?!’.”

Klopp, though, has not always been quite so lighthearted over the subject. He accused Marcus Buckland, TV anchor for Amazon Prime, of being “completely ignorant” when asked about his “favourite” kick-off time looming after a 2-0 win at Sheffield United in December. “That’s brave, really brave; you make a joke about that,” said Klopp.

Why was he upset?

It should be pointed out that Klopp’s speech on Friday was far from an angry rant — more a case of an outgoing manager eager to get a few things off his chest. That Klopp grinned throughout much of his scheduling lament would endorse that theory.

Klopp had been asked if eight days of preparation would benefit his flagging side before facing Tottenham when he veered off on the tangent of scheduling. He cited Aston Villa’s surprising 4-2 loss to Olympiacos in the Europa Conference League on Thursday night as being symptomatic of the demands placed upon Premier League clubs.

Aston Villa were beaten by Olympiacos on Thursday (Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

“The Premier League is the best league in the world,” said Klopp. “It is not overrated, the players are overworked. Somebody needs to help the people.

‘They broadcast and deliver it, but it’s not like TNT or Sky is doing really well and can pay all of you. You have to become a partner of football again and not just the squeezer. That’s just a little advice from an old man on the way out.”

Klopp has not been a lone voice in this debate. Mikel Arteta and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer previously made their misgivings clear, as did Frank Lampard when in charge of Chelsea. “That 12:30 slot, how much does it need to be there?” Lampard asked. “It’s not the optimum way to have players preparing for a Premier League game.”

Has there always been an early Saturday kick-off in the Premier League?

Not always, but it has become a staple of the broadcasters’ weekend. The 12:30pm slot was introduced in 2016 — early games had previously begun at 12:45pm — and is here for good. It may carry reduced appeal to viewers in North America and South America, but the Saturday lunchtime games go out live to primetime audiences in Asia.

Although Friday night games have been increasingly shown in the last two seasons, the Saturday lunchtime spot typically marks the beginning of a Premier League weekend. It has been ‘Package A’ in the rights deals sold domestically and covers 32 games kicking off at 12:30pm on a Saturday.

How are the games allocated?

Broadcasters, who pump billions into the Premier League every year, ultimately call the shots. Depending on the rights package owned, either Sky Sports or TNT will get the first-, second-, third-, fourth- or fifth-choice pick of games on any given weekend.

First choice usually goes to the Sunday 4:30pm slot, which is considered the prime viewing window for Sky Sports. TNT Sports is not given any first-choice picks for a Saturday lunchtime but is given 20 second-choice picks. That has historically meant bad news for Liverpool, who guarantee high viewing figures.

The one restriction on TNT — and Sky — is how many times one team can be picked for a slot. No club can be shown on a Saturday lunchtime more than six times a season.

Do other leagues make more allowance for their clubs playing in Europe?

Klopp’s point holds some water. Of the 12 clubs remaining in UEFA’s three competitions this season, only one is from the Premier League. Aston Villa, in the Europa Conference League, are the last team standing but face an uphill task to reach the final after a bruising first-leg loss to Olympiacos.

It can hardly be noted as an alarming trend when two English clubs, Manchester City and West Ham, won European prizes last season, but the Premier League does not go to the same lengths to help its teams as others on the continent.

The LFP, the governing body for France’s Ligue 1, has postponed domestic matches for its teams playing in Europe to give additional preparation time. Paris Saint-Germain will not play anyone between the two legs of a Champions League semi-final against Borussia Dortmund, with the same luxury afforded to Marseille in their Europa League semi-final against Atalanta.

PSG’s Kylian Mbappe was given a week off domestic football in between Champions League semi-finals (Lars Baron/Getty Images)

Portuguese and Spanish clubs have also been known to call on the support of their domestic leagues when going deep into European competitions. Real Madrid, for example, had their La Liga game away to Real Sociedad moved to last Friday to give them an extra day of preparation before facing Bayern Munich on Tuesday, a game they drew 2-2.

The bigger motivation for some leagues is improving their UEFA coefficient and, with that, bringing chances for more of their clubs to qualify. The Premier League’s faint hopes of being given a fifth spot in the Champions League vanished once and for all this week. Klopp, at least, can count down the days until it ceases to be a consideration.


So will this change?

Not in the short term. TNT Sports has made the 12:30pm spot its own and will continue broadcasting Saturday lunchtime games until at least the end of the 2028-29 season after the Premier League struck a new domestic deal in December.

(Top photo: Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images)

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