The English Football League are looking to end the UK’s 3pm Saturday TV blackout, which would make all matches available for live broadcast, according to reports.
There appears to be football to watch on TV every day in England, from Monday to Sunday at various times, with some fans having to deal with late kick-offs to suit the broadcasters. We now have Friday and Monday night football, Sundays shaped around the Premier League, not to mention European competitions in midweek.
But one kick-off slot that has been kept free from television action is the Saturday 3pm action, thanks to a decision dating back to the 1960s.
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Back then, chairman of Burnley Bob Lord, known to be against televising football at all, convinced the EFL that showing games on TV would have a negative effect on the attendances of other football league games. For example, fans would choose watching Arsenal vs Liverpool on TV over going to a lower-division game, even if they supported a team in the latter. It’s an argument that still sticks with some today, believing the Premier League being on TV at 3pm on a Saturday would bring lower attendance to non-league football.
As a result, the FA, Premier League and EFL do not allow English matches to be televised live between 2:45pm and 5:15pm on a Saturday within the UK. One of the few exceptions for the season was the FA Cup Final, before it was moved to the 5:15pm kick-off slot on a Saturday.
The blackout comes into play for foreign matches too, with fans of Serie A in the UK having to miss the opening 15 minutes of the 5pm Saturday kick-offs. There was also a Clasico missed in its entirety in 2013, with Real Madrid hosting Barcelona on a Saturday at 3pm. Another Clasico was missed a few years later with a 3:15pm kick-off.
There was a brief pause on the blackout when games were played behind closed doors, but it resumed at the start of the 2021/22 season. However, fans away from the UK have been able to watch the UK’s Saturday 3pm games at their heart’s content, with Premier League matches often shown on TV and EFL matches usually broadcast on clubs’ designated streaming services such as iFollow.
While it is an FA decision, the rule is enforced by Article 48 of UEFA’s statutes which allows member nations to selected a weekend slot of two-and-a-half hours where football is banned from TV. Article 48 does require 50 per cent of matches in England’s top two divisions to kick off at 3pm for it to come into effect, and it is usually covered by the Championship schedule even though the Premier League appear to have fewer matches at that slot.
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But now the EFL are looking to scrap the blackout as they start planning for TV rights deals ahead of the 2024/25 season. According to reports which first appeared in the Daily Mail, the EFL are opening their bidding to move than just Sky Sports and BT Sport, with Facebook, Netflix, Google, Apple and Amazon also involved.
The EFL reportedly believe that by opening up more matches for TV (including the Saturday 3pms) to a wider market would bring them a better deal than the one they are currently getting from Sky alone, at £119m-a-year.
“The league is taking a fresh and new approach to this latest rights cycle, inviting proposals that embrace innovation and offer contemporary solutions that cater for changing audience habits,” the EFL said in a statement confirming their decision.
The Mail have also reported that clubs would welcome the plans to sell more matches, but what do the fans think?
Some were for the idea, whether making it a permanent change or trialling it.
— Liam (@ProcrastiProj) October 12, 2022
It should be trialed for a season. Why do all decisions have to be definitive? There are arguments either way worth hearing. Try it for a year then review
— United Theory (@United_Theory) October 12, 2022
Trial it – if it causes attendance issues then reverse it
— Will (@will11ship) October 12, 2022
This HAS to happen!
— Toby (@TobyCoxonSports) October 12, 2022
Good! Countries living in the dark ages not showing 3pm games. https://t.co/bsv7i1MWju
— Jack Rees (@Reesy_14) October 12, 2022
But others still believe it could affect attendances.
Kevin Miles, chief executive of the Football Supporters’ Association, said: “The UK’s footballing ecosystem is the envy of the world, with matchday attendances running all the way down to non-league and grassroots that dwarf those of elite level games in many other countries.
“Everyone is responsible for maintaining that environment in which football at all levels can not just survive, but thrive – so the professional game should exercise extreme caution before contemplating the end of the 3pm blackout.
“Removing the blackout would have dramatic consequences for the pyramid, many unforeseen, which is why FSA members up and down the pyramid have strongly resisted any relaxation of this protection.”
EFL ditching the 3pm blackout will surely lead to the Premier League following suit – and a detrimental effect on lower league attendances. Short sighted. https://t.co/0N9dkgn6TX
— Owen Gibson (@owen_g) October 11, 2022
Thankfully it isn’t the EFL’s decision.
This is a terrible idea. They’ve no chance of competing with PL broadcasts and this will be devastating for clubs lower down in the non-league pyramid. https://t.co/Fj39bwbw4A
— Against League 3 (@AgainstLeague3) October 12, 2022
I’ve always argued in favour of the 3pm blackout – but I acknowledge the list of clubs calling for change is growing, even in NL.
A better solution would be to allow flexibility in days/KO times so clubs who wish to stream/broadcast can do so, while leaving others protected.
— Against League 3 (@AgainstLeague3) October 12, 2022
The proposals from the EFL regarding scrapping the 3pm blackout feel like a pretty seismic shift.
The biggest issue is that once the genie is out of the bottle, attendances could well plummet and never recover. Hard not to feel as though they’re playing with fire.
— HLTCO (@HLTCO) October 12, 2022
Another decision that’ll no doubt reduce crowd numbers at the match.
— Nathan (@nathan_ab27) October 12, 2022
Removing the 3pm blackout will kill English football👍🏼
— james (@JammsterZ) October 12, 2022
Getting rid of the 3pm blackout would be disastrous for lower league football. https://t.co/zJae1oepo2
— Alex Mitton (@Alexmitton10) October 12, 2022