Let me set the scene. 3pm on a Saturday, after a hard week at work you look forward to watching your favourite team in the premier league. Instead you’re treated to Sky sports football league coverage or none at all.

The Sky sports package at time of writing will cost you £28 a month, whilst the BT sports package in standard definition will run you £25.99. This is in addition to whatever basic package you are subscribed to. English football has become a very lucrative industry, with the television rights worth 1 billion a year. So why was the blackout enforced ?

The 3pm broadcasting blackout enforced currently in the United Kingdom means games can’t be televised between 2:45 and 5:15. In the 1960’s then Burnley chairman Bob Lord, convinced other football league chairmen that televised games would negatively affect the attendance of games that were not being broadcast, such as his Burnley team.

John Barnes of Watford and Ian Rush of Liverpool in the second game ever on English TV (Getty Images)

And so based on this 50 year old hunch every country in the world can watch every single premier league football match, except the UK. Currently after an investigation by Ofcom into how premier league rights are sold, roughly 200 out of 380 premier league games are due to be shown. So is it possible that this blackout has worked ? Well the Uk is the only league out of the top 5 european leagues where a ban like this exists, and as such we can look to these other leagues to determine if coverage really does affect match attendance. In 2011 the european court of justice investigated the validity of the blackout.

As an additional ground of justification, which is not, however, dealt with in the orders for reference, the FAPL claims that the football associations can adopt a window of two-and-a-half hours during which no football matches are to be transmitted. This is the core period during which the vast majority of football matches in the associations’ top leagues take place.

A televised game at the King Power Stadium (Matthew Lewis)

 “It is, in fact, doubtful whether closed periods are capable of encouraging attendance at matches and participation in matches. Both activities have a completely different quality to the following of a live transmission on television. It has not been adequately shown to the Court that the closed periods actually encourage attendance at and participation in matches. Indeed, there is evidence to refute this claim: for example, in an investigation of the closed periods under competition law the Commission found that only 10 of 22 associations had actually adopted a closed period. No closed periods were adopted in France, Germany, Italy and Spain, or in Northern Ireland, that is to say, within the sphere of influence of English football. (86) Furthermore, in Germany today all Bundesliga matches are evidently transmitted live without attendance at matches in the top two leagues suffering as a result.

Opinion of Advocate General Kokott delivered on 3 February 2011 Cases C‑403/08 and C‑429/08

Currently the blackout is seen as vitally important to protect the viability of lower league football, but I question how overstated this effect will be. Attending football matches is engrained in the fabric of this nations culture, and personally it is only a matter of time until the 3pm blackout will be revisited significantly. Share your opinion with #TouchlineFracas


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