This week will see the first all Chinese-owned Derby della Madonnina. Unusually for the fixture, it will be played in the lunchtime slot, but will this kick-off time be harmful for the atmosphere?
Signs of Serie A bowing to television scheduling will be witnessed on Saturday April 15, 2017, when the Derby della Madonnina between Inter and AC Milan experiences a lunchtime kick-off for the first time in its history.
With the Nerazzurri being joined by the Rossoneri in Chinese hands earlier this week, the 12.30 start is no doubt aimed at pleasing followers in that region. However, while able to take in the historic fixture during their evening meal, exactly what they will get for the privilege remains to be seen.
Back on a cold November night at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, an injury-time Ivan Perisic goal added fitting drama to an enthralling 90 minutes of football, lit up by the atmospheric sights and sounds of the San Siro under floodlight.
Unfortunately, while the fan choreography will be undertaken with usual vigour, something will certainly be lost with sunlight not floodlight breaking through the pyrotechnic smoke rolling across the pitch ahead of the referees whistle.
With Serie A keen to ‘sell’ their product to Asian and Middle Eastern markets that the Premier League have exploited so well, concerns must exist regarding what sort out atmosphere a lunchtime derby brings – despite one of the showpiece events of the Italian calendar.
Experiencing something of a slump in recent years, the two sides no longer have star names to entice audiences to television sets or the stadium – probably last seen in the mid-to-late noughties when both could legitimately have eyes on the Scudetto.
A kick-off time now commonplace on a Sunday on the peninsula. It is usually reserved for a battle between mid-to-low ranking clubs, or David v Goliath clashes expected to bring a glut of goals to the television masses, but fails to inspire match goers.
When the Rossoneri faced Crotone and Sampdoria at San Siro during the ‘lunchtime slot’ crowds, at 37,294 and 31,974 respectively, were well below seasonal averages that have seen them and Inter top the attendance charts.
Overseas supporters will have had tickets and travel arranged long before the announcement midway through March, so will hopefully match the 77,882 spectators at the first encounter.
This time the Nerazzurri are officially the home side, but yet to experience an early kick-off at the Meazza will take confidence from a 100 per cent lunchtime record from three fixtures on the road this term.
Purely from a viewing perspective, there can often be something unspectacular about early kick-offs – whichever league you watch – with little time outside the stadium or on our screens to build a sense of anticipation for the fixture.
The statistics tell you, though, that there is no reduction in goalscoring activity, with matches this season virtually matching Serie A as a whole at 2.7 goals per game.
Given derbies are traditionally tense affairs, the San Siro may not be awash with goals on Saturday, but averaging two goals per match over the last decade hint that some of those lucrative markets may have something to celebrate at their dinner tables.
However, regardless of events on the pitch and whether it manages to satisfy a wider television audience, let’s hope the early kick-off does not overly-sanitise what is rightly renowned as one of the most entertaining and fiercely contested fixtures in world football.