Thursday, January 7, 2016

Watching the EPL Live ... Or More Often Not

I enjoyed the rare luxury of watching a chunk of the last round of English Premier League matches before the New Year, as I had time off work and temporary access to the Fox Sports channel. My viewing started with the Manchester United v Chelsea match early on the Tuesday morning [Australian Eastern Standard Time], continued on for three more matches on replay, and then finished off with the Leicester v Manchester City and Sunderland v Liverpool matches. (Alas, due to a few low scoring matches, I saw only one goal ‘live’.)
My EPL ‘binge’ raised what I thought was an interesting point about watching EPL matches – you can see relatively few matches in or close to their entirety as they happen. Generally over half of an EPL round is played at the same time on a Saturday afternoon [UK time]. I purposefully did not check the scores of the matches that were being replayed before I watched them, but the fact remains that they had already happened; the result was not in doubt as I was watching.
Personally I find it kind of cool and somewhat quaint that many of the EPL matches are still played all over the country at the same time. When I first started watching Australian Rules football most of the Victorian Football League matches occurred on a Saturday afternoon as well. It was exciting to be at a match and see the progress scores on the scoreboard, or listen to the radio and go around the grounds. The last Saturday afternoon of the 1987 VFL home and away season, when every match was close and had an impact on the finishing order for the finals, still stands as one of my all-time favourite sporting days. The EPL sometimes has that sort of excitement when the title is up for grabs on the last match day.
America’s National Football League has a similar schedule to the EPL. Most of the matches are played in two blocks; the first on Sunday afternoon [American Eastern Standard Time], and the second on Sunday evening. Again then, it is not possible to watch a lot of matches in or close to their entirety as they happen. A side effect of this is that the matches that do not occur within these two blocks take on extra significance, namely the Monday night and Thursday night matches in the NFL, and the early Saturday afternoon and Sunday and Monday matches in the EPL. For me this significance does not even come from these being the only live matches for the day, since I can usually only catch the highlights for these matches. Nevertheless I almost always watch the highlights for the ‘off-match/game day’ bouts.
Down in Australia of course the schedules for the two main football leagues – the Australian Football League (the former VFL) and the National Rugby League – have become stretched out over the weekend so TV viewers can watch as many live matches as possible. This may have also been done so that, if you regularly worked on a Saturday afternoon, you would not miss all of your club’s matches. If your preference is to sit on the couch all weekend watching match after match, which personally I do not do except during the finals, then you probably really like this type of schedule. At the least it means you can watch a lot of matches live if you want to.
The other major American sports leagues aside from the NFL have so many games that surely few people would want to sit through all of them. Nevertheless you can watch a lot of games live if you want to, although not in their entirety, due to the time difference between the East Coast and West Coast games and to some extent the Central games as well. In the case of the National Basketball Association currently only my desire not to spend my whole day on the weekend watching basketball prevents me from starting my viewing at 11.00am [Australian Eastern Standard Time] and ending at 5.00pm, although we will see if that still holds once the playoffs begin.
Anyway, the point of all this is just to muse on the different approaches to scheduling, and how they affect your experience of following a sport. As I said, I sort of long for the days that most of the Australian Rules matches were played on a Saturday afternoon. I enjoyed my EPL ‘binge’ because it was a rarity, not because I would want to do it every week. Plus, given the time differences, on some days I would prefer to sleep.

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