Weekly football conversation since 2009, with Graham Sibley, Jan Bilton and Terry Duffelen. Listen on Acast, Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or your podcatcher of choice.

A Game Of Four Quarters?



Why it would be a good idea to get rid of half time as we know it.

I can't reveal the ratings for the Liverpool v Chelsea game but I can tell you a lot of people watched it, even more than Dr Who last Saturday. That's a lot. Not only was it watched by millions of people but it was watched by the kind of people that advertisers love. Men with lots of money. Advertisers pay extra for that demographic and the more that watch, the more they pay and the more wedge for ITV.

If you look at the quarter hour split (which admittedly you can't so I'll do it for you) the programme starts with roughly half the average audience. Then it picks up when the match starts, drops off a bit for half time and reaches its peak towards the end of the match. After the ref blew up after five minutes of comedy injury time, the ratings shot tom to less than half their peak.

Sounds reasonable? That more people watch the game than the crappy bits in the middle with Steve Rider and Andy Whatsisface plus those rubbish adverts? Yes that sound reasonable and why? Because it is reasonable.

The problem though, is that is those crappy bits in the middle with Steve Rider and Andy Whatsisface plus those rubbish adverts are what pays for the match to be on the telly in the first place… at least the adverts do anyway. So when a third of the audience change channel during the half time break to watch something else or walk out the room to make tea, the advertisers say "bah!" and the broadcaster tug at their collars nervously.

In truth, you can't stop everyone from not paying attention to football matches during the half time break and pre and post match bollocks. However, you can soften the blow by keeping the viewers attention. This makes broadcasters persistence with the same moribund style of coverage a mystery but we've been through this before. No the time to catch viewers out with adverts is when just before the game starts (which is why they sneak in a cheeky ad break just before the start of the match) or, even better, while they are watching the game. But that of course is impossible... or is it?

Well yes of course it is. You can’t screen adverts during a game, they would get in the way of the action. Also, unlike Formula 1, you can't leave the match for a couple of minutes before returning to find that everyone is still going round and round as before... well you could but it’s not wise and its certainly not desirable. What you can do though is stop the game periodically and take a break for two minutes. Only of course you can't do that because the rules don't allow for stoppages. Unless of course you change the rules for adverts but you can't do that can you?

For many, the game is sacrosanct and must be protected from rampant commercialism. I would be one of those people. The game’s greatest quality is its simplicity. Complicating it by introducing new innovations undermines that principle. Elements like new technologies, specifically video evidence, create a disconnect between the upper echelons of the game and its grass roots.

However, some changes may, not only make commercial sense but football sense too. Specifically, a game of four quarters.

Don't get me wrong, I am broadly against commercialism in football. However, the Premier League relies heavily on TV revenue for its income and irrespective of the issues regarding the general direction professional football in England is going, people like watching football on TV and must TV companies have commercials so a couple of extra breaks will help boost ad sales during the game.

There is another argument. A short two minute break in the middle of each half gives both teams a chance to have a quick breather and team talk. That is a benefit that would be transferable to all levels of the game from the World Cup to the grass-roots level. Also, how many park footballer’s “careers” would be lengthened if they did not have to play a continuous 45 minute plus injury time but could stop after 20 odd minutes for a breather. You could shorten half time and add injury time at the end of the second and fourth quarters.

There are disadvantages. The flow of a good game could be interrupted by two more extra breaks. On the other hand, a crap game could do with a stoppage to try and sort things out. There are also some unforeseeable consequences. What will be the tactical implications? How will coaches plan their matches based on four quarters rather than two halves. Will the pattern and shape of the game change radically and for the worse?

Nevertheless, there are genuine benefits. Some may argue that the game should never change for the benefit of the moneymen, and they'd be right. But if changes can be made for the good of the game as a whole then maybe it’s worth at least thinking about. There have been dafter ideas haven’t there?

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