Why the Saturday Blackout Should be Removed
By Tom Pople
Anyone that lives in Britain and likes watching football knows about the ‘Saturday blackout’ that occurs between 2.45 pm and 5.15 pm every Saturday. This blackout essentially means that no live Premier League, Football League, or FA Cup games can be broadcast on TV due to a law that dates to the 1960s. The law was proposed and created by then Burnley chairman Bob Lord to stop the broadcasting of games at this time to hopefully mitigate the increasing popularity of football on television and ticket sales at lower league games. Skip forward to the present day and this rule also blocks the viewing of overseas matches, for example, the 3.15 La Liga game cannot be broadcast in the UK, and the 5 pm Serie A game can be shown, but only after 15 minutes of the first half have passed.
"the fabled lost graveyard of old television sets" by byronv2 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.
Back in the 1960s, of course, it is highly understood as to why the emerging threat of television would’ve caused fear amongst the higher-ups at lower league football clubs, fearing their attendance and fanbase would plummet due to the availability of watching football from your own home, but 60 years later with apps, streaming services and all of the modern technology we have for football content indulgence, why do we stick to the same outdated laws from a different era? A graph by George Mallett on Sports Gazette that can be found here, clearly shows that there have been yearly increases in attendance between the 17/18 and 21/22 seasons across England’s top six divisions. Except for a decrease between the 18/19 and 21/22 seasons for the EFL Championship and Vanarama National League North (a 17.23% and 7.58% decrease in attendance respectively), the attendance has soared pre-pandemic, with the Vanarama National League seeing a huge 55.15% average attendance increase. It is understandable to see why chairmen would’ve been threatened by television all those years ago, however with the increasing support for local teams, the money and the improving quality of local teams as well as their stadiums and grounds, there is no reason why the lower leagues can’t flourish, whilst the 3 pm games can be shown on TV to those who want to watch. It can be argued that the blackout does not encourage fans to visit their local teams, as those who would go to the games anyway still go, but with no real incentive for casuals to get involved unless for a day out. Furthermore, the public can watch these games from their home anyway. The rise in illegal streaming services means that if people wanted to watch their supported team they can, as well as using a VPN to access sites that show football in other countries such as in Asia and America.
In my opinion, the Saturday blackout is outdated and needs to be revoked. Of course, I am speaking from the position of someone who supports a Premier League football club and watches Premier League football, so therefore wanting to watch the lower leagues has never been the most appealing to me. Unfortunately, there may be a scenario where attendance at lower league games dips. Guto Llewelyn of Cymru Online says that there was around a 10% decrease in physical attendance when Championship games were shown online. Nobody wants the lower league clubs to suffer, however, teams are making money in a multitude of ways compared to 60 years ago. The rise of the ‘Footy Scran’ Twitter page highlight the best of food at football grounds, YouTube channels that show off the best of lower and non-league football and other accounts on TikTok, Instagram and just about any social media that bring football content to the masses. Clubs can profit off of their social media, using it to gain a slight revenue stream; but also to raise awareness of the club and their ventures. Replica kits are being sold and it is becoming almost fashionable to say that you ‘support local’. Football is the most popular sport in the world, and it is only natural that fans want to engage in as much content and watch all the games as they can, but with the current laws in place, it seems like there is a punishment for fans who cannot be in physical attendance to 3 pm games, especially given the ticket costs and availability of some games. There has been talk of the EFL looking to scrap this law in their next broadcasting deal, but the Premier League has not been positive in their comments regarding if they will follow suit. We are the only country in the world that has this silly structure in place, and lower-league clubs still thrive elsewhere. Nobody wants to see the dismissal of lower league clubs and to try and mitigate any negative factors of removing the ban, a similar platform to that of German football can be introduced, where games are staggered depending on the league so that there is no overlapping between the main Bundesliga and the leagues below. A lot has changed in the 60 years since the induction of the blackout, and with television and streaming in a different place from where it once was, it's time to let go of the old ways and move forward to create modern practices that work for everyone.