With a host of teams now competing in a string of tournaments both domestically and on the European stage, some fans like to be able to watch those elite showdowns from the comfort of their own homes. Nevertheless, while supporters from across England would love to have the chance to watch every game that is available on a Saturday afternoon, that isn’t something that is possible.
With much focus once again falling on English football’s 3pm blackout, there is plenty of confusion as to why such a long-standing rule is still in place. So, if you have ever wondered why the majority of games on a Saturday afternoon are out of access for fans across the country? We have taken an in-depth look at the 3pm blackout and what changes could be in the pipeline.
What Is the 3PM Blackout & Why Is It in Place?
When you look back to the origins of the 3pm blackout and why exactly it was first brought into place for English football, you have to go way back to the 1960s. The initial idea for a select group of fixtures to be banned from the airwaves was first introduced by former Burnley chairman, Bob Lord, in an attempt to ensure that the lower leagues could still attract large stadium attendances.
Ensuring Lower Leagues Still Attract Large Crowds
For example, it was felt by Lord, and many other senior executives at top-flight clubs, that if Manchester United were playing Liverpool on a Saturday afternoon and that contest was shown on television, then fans from across the country would elect to stay at home rather than attending one of their smaller local fixtures.
With a host of sides from outside the Premier League reliant on gate receipts, rather than the lucrative TV rights, when it comes to their overall finances, the 3pm blackout was originally seen as a way to offer clubs some financial stability. With the bulk of professional games from across England’s top four leagues played on a Saturday afternoon, the current ruling prohibits live football from being shown on TV between 2.45pm and 5.15pm on that sacred day in the English calendar.
Although English football might hold the most stringent blackout rules, UEFA also has some similar guidelines in place. In what is most commonly known as ‘Article 48’ of the UEFA statutes, those regulations allow any of their footballing associations to decide on any set period of 2.5 hours on a Saturday and Sunday where their football fixtures will be banned from going on television.
Has the 3PM Blackout Ever Been Lifted?
Although the 3pm blackout might have been strictly in place since its birth six decades ago, there was a recent relaxation of the rule in recent times. With the world as a whole coming to a grinding stop two years ago after the unprecedented global issues, the return of football in 2020 following a brief break did see the blackout rule temporarily lifted.
Lifted Temporarily in 2020
With UEFA announcing just a week before the Premier League resumed in April 2020 that it had accepted a request to suspend its 3pm blackout rule, that spell is the only time that there has been an easing of the regulation.
As strict government guidelines meant that professional games would be forced to play their fixtures behind closed doors, the blackout rule become redundant as supporters would not have the option to attend any game no matter the level. However, confirmed ahead of the 2021/22 campaign that full-capacity stadiums would be allowed across the country, the 3pm blackout was immediately reimplemented, much to the frustration of plenty.
While fans across England might have been disappointed to have not been able to watch their team from inside a stadium during that time, the temporary lifting of the blackout rule did give supporters a taste of what could be.
Is There a 3PM Blackout in Other Countries?
With there now a constant conversation regarding the benefits of the 3pm blackout and the positives that it holds in the modern era, there is some confusion as to whether England is the only country to implement such stringent broadcasting rules. While other elite domestic leagues such as La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1 might tend to stagger their fixtures over a single weekend to avoid a major pile-up, England is the only country that has a 3pm blackout in their schedule.
With those domestic top-flight leagues feeling that there is not a direct correlation between gate attendances for smaller clubs and the times that some fixtures are broadcasted, English football certainly stands unique in this factor. However, while Europe’s elite might not have a 3pm blackout on a Saturday afternoon, the ruling is extended into the Scottish Premiership.
Although it might be the case 99% of the time that the Old Firm derby, Scotland’s most iconic showdown, will be shown outside of the blackout bracket, any other Premiership fixture will not be aired. Likewise, while England’s 3pm blackout might be designed in order to help the finances of their smaller clubs, this rule does drag over to European games that are scheduled in that time frame.
So, if a European fixture kicked off at 15:00 on a Saturday afternoon and was being shown by an English channel, that broadcaster would not be able to be shown on-air for the opening 15 minutes due to the current blackout regulations.
Could the 3PM Blackout Soon Be a Thing of the Past?
With English football’s 3pm blackout first coming into effect way back in the 19060s, it is no secret that times have certainly changed over the past six decades. Watching English football burst into superstardom following the Premier League’s birth in 1992, there have also been a host of societal changes up and down the country. Although the initial creation of the 3pm blackout might have been first established in order to help the football clubs outside of England’s elite, this long-standing rule has come under growing scrutiny once again.
An Archaic Rule?
Along with fans themselves making it clear over recent years that such an archaic rule is no longer needed in the modern era, it appears that there is a greater push from across the board. With many clubs from outside England’s Premier League potentially smelling the chance to open a new revenue stream, the EFL (English Football League) have now made their stance clear on the 3pm blackout.
EFL to Re-Evaluate Rule
With the EFL overseeing all aspects of the English game outside of the Premier League’s 20 clubs, chairman Rick Parry stated back in April that changes could be on the way sooner rather than later. Stating that he does not believe a 3pm blackout has anywhere near the effect that it once had in the 1960s, those calls have been backed fiercely by fans and clubs alike. Although any proposals to scrap the blackout would have to be passed by UEFA, the EFL’s existing TV deal with Sky Sports comes to an end in 2024 and many feel that could be a crucial factor in the death of a 3pm blackout in England.
Premier League’s War on Piracy
With the English game and all of their superstars deemed by many across Europe to be the best footballing league in the world, it is no secret that almost every supporter is desperate to tune in on a Saturday afternoon. However, with the long-standing 3pm blackout rule strictly prohibiting fixtures in that time bracket to be shown on-air, the Premier League has been involved in a real battle with piracy issues.
Although the Premier League’s clamping down on piracy might have seen some high-profile prosecutions in recent times, the issue still remains rife. A recent survey estimated that almost 2 million people have used an illegal streaming website to watch a Premier League match. Likewise, that same survey also states that 4% of all illegal streaming activity across the UK is solely based on fans watching Premier League fixtures.
With the Premier League really trying to clamp down on illegal streams that not only break their lucrative TV deals, but also undermine their 3pm blackout rule, some feel that removing the blackout entirely could help England’s war on piracy.