The last day of the Premier League season sees all 10 games played at 10am ET / 3pm UK time. This is so that no team knows what’s happening at any other ground – which is useful for close title fights and relegation scraps, a fine idea, even if this season all that was decided weeks ago.
Luckily these games are on a Sunday, for if they were on a Saturday nobody would be able to watch any of it on British television. Shortly after World War II, when soccer was on its way to becoming Britain’s favorite sport amidst the country’s rebuilding and television’s increasing popularity, small teams were worried about television’s effect on their revenue.
At that time, match day revenue was the most important financial figure for the club, and televised matches (usually of big clubs) would affect the attendance of small club games that were not on television. Thus, still to this day, no live soccer can be shown on Saturdays between 2:45-5:15pm local time in England.
This rule is archaic and overreaching for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, and ridiculously, not only is English soccer is affected. Spanish games that kick off at 5pm UK time are affected because obviously a Burnley fan would rather watch 15 minutes of Granada versus Real Sociedad than go to their local ground.
Secondly, match day revenue does not matter for more and more teams. Television revenue is king for pretty much every team in England’s top two divisions, and attendances at the bottom two divisions is falling regardless of the law. This is borne out by a European Court of Justice ruling in 2011, which stated that the closed periods on Saturday do not have any statistically significant effect on increasing game attendance.
Thirdly, fans are inconvenienced by a law that was designed for a different time. Back then, like always, games between big teams are going to be put on television for maximum revenue generation. 3pm local time is an effective kick-off time for a game considering England’s geography, supporters traveling south or north by train or coach can get to their destination without huge expense or inconvenience. Yet due to the black-out, Arsenal fans will have to get up at dawn on a Saturday to get up to Manchester City by 12:45pm local time.
Fourthly, due to the Premier League’s popularity all over the world, someone in Melbourne or Muscat can watch more games on television than someone in Manchester. United Kingdom broadcasters can definitely not show Saturday matches at 3pm in the UK. However, NBC Sports, which owns foreign rights to all matches in the US, can. In the US, all Premier League games are made available. In this day and age, it is not too difficult for fans to figure out that the game they want to watch is available somewhere in the world, and they can either circumvent the blackout legally (through subscribing to a VPN or foreign channels) or illegally (through streaming them).
The mass availability of alternatives further damages the aim of the law, which is to increase attendance at games rather than have everyone watching a few games on TV.
Fifthly, if attendances are declining (and certainly at the top end they are not, despite prices rising for everything from tickets to pints and pies at the game), the way to do this would be to let more clubs have television revenue. With less and less dependence on ticket and match day revenue but more dependence on atmosphere at full stadiums to improve the TV product, prices may come down. With more television availability seeing supporters less eager to come to the stadium, prices may go down anyway to attract supporters.
Now this blackout is handled and enforced by OFCOM (the British communications regulator). In 2014, OFCOM opened a probe into football television rights based on a complaint by Virgin Media about the ridiculous problem that English football was shown less on English television than elsewhere in Europe. Customers paying for Sky EPL games in England were paying the same (or more) than those in France, for less games.
To correct the problem, more games would have had to be made available for television, and unless kick-off times got even more convoluted, the best way would have been to repeal the 3pm blackout. However in 2016, nothing material has been gained from the probe despite sales from the new TV rights deal for 2016-19 worth more than £8.3 billion.
One would think for Sky (126 league games and 15 League Cup games) and BT (38 league games and 25 FA cup games) to recoup some of this money, they would want more soccer on television. The fans would agree.
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