Image Credit: Sam Szapucki
A couple of weeks ago (Saturday 26th October) I was looking forward to a couple of great games both in the UK and on the continent, Bayern Munich were taking on Union Berlin in the Bundesliga at 2:30pm, there were Premier League and Championship fixtures at 3pm and Inter Milan were playing Parma in Serie A at 5:00pm. Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t watch any of the games mentioned before 5pm, or the opening 15 minutes of the Inter game due to a rule set in the 1960s. Then Burnley chairman Bob Lord argued to fellow chairmen of clubs in the Football League that the rise of televised matches on a Saturday afternoon would lead to the inevitable reduction in attendances, even of games that were not being televised which would in turn mean less revenue.
As a result the FA introduced the blackout, no game is allowed to be televised live in the UK between 2:45 and 5:15 (hence why I couldn't watch the first 15 minutes of the Inter game). The FA Cup final used to be an exception but has since been moved to 5pm. Eleven Sports, who own the rights to Serie A in the UK have chosen to put audio commentary only for the opening 15 minutes of matches whilst displaying a message about their disagreement with this policy, including correctly pointing out that this policy is only in the UK and Montenegro.
So why is this policy so dreadful? Let me start by addressing the main concern presented by Bob Ford in the 1960s, I understand and appreciate his concerns considering the fact that football on TV was very new back then and the effects were unknown (even if the idea of skipping a football game to watch it on a 9 inch black and white TV is completely laughable now). This idea though is completely flawed, when watching TV games in the past week, I have still seen sold out grounds, both here and in countries where the blackout does not apply. The reason is because going to a ground is always so much better than watching on the TV. The atmosphere, being around your fellow fans and the day around going to the match means that those with the means to go to the stadium will always go to the game instead of watching it on the television. There are those who might not have the means to go to every game who will want to watch some on TV, especially students and people who can't afford their club's season ticket price (hello Arsenal), but my point is that no one has ever picked TV over going to the stadium without some other overriding factor (time, cost, other events etc.).
Next, I would like to ask who actually benefits, who wins by keeping the blackout in place? The owners don’t, as they cannot make as much TV revenue as they would if the blackout wasn’t in place and again, would not lose any attendance from having 3pm games aired. The fans don’t win as it means fixtures get moved around more (though there would still be games moved, there would probably be
fewer) and they don’t have the option of watching the game at home if they cannot make it to the ground and the FA don’t win as it doesn’t help with any of their aims of getting more fans into the grounds or encouraging them to watch grassroots football. So, the answer is that there just isn’t a winner, no one gains, everyone loses.
From all of this, you could assume that people who can’t or don’t attend a game can’t and don’t watch games banned by the 3pm blackout. In reality I could have watched all these matches quite easily because the internet continues to exist, and whilst the internet continues to exist, there will always be other ways to watch any game I wanted. For example, Football League clubs either use iFollow or have their own service (such as Leeds and LUTV) to stream matches to viewers outside of the UK for a small fee (usually £5), however a VPN can easily get around these barriers and there doesn’t seem to be much incentive to make it harder for British football fans to give these teams even more money. The Premier League and its teams don’t have anything like this, despite rumours of it coming soon, however there are many illegal steams that can be found through a simple search. These streams, according to The Drum, cost Premier League teams £1m per game.
So, to conclude, what we have is a system that might have made sense in the 1960s but hasn’t been adapted to both evidence and the changing football landscape. The blackout is not beneficial to fans, owners, clubs or the FA. With more money going down the drain it, one assumes it won’t be time until the Premier League and Football league start pushing against it. If common sense prevails, the blackout will be on its last legs, and that will be nothing but a good thing.