In the UK, the Saturday 3pm blackout rule has been a long-standing tradition in football broadcasting. This rule prohibits live broadcasts of football matches taking place at 3pm on Saturdays, which has been in effect for more than 50 years. The intention of the 3pm blackout was to encourage fans to attend matches in person, instead of watching live broadcasts. However, with the internet and the changes to how sport fans watch games, this ban has come under scrutiny for its impact on increased piracy in the UK.
Why was the Saturday 3pm blackout rule implemented?
The Saturday 3pm blackout rule was first introduced in the 1960s. At the time, football clubs relied heavily on gate receipts for revenue. The rule was implemented to encourage fans to attend matches in person, as live television broadcasts were seen as a threat to match attendance. The rule was also intended to ensure that matches played at the same time would not be broadcasted simultaneously, which could affect attendance figures.
Does the Saturday 3pm blackout rule still serve its purpose?
In recent years, the rule has come under scrutiny for its relevance in the modern era. With the rise of internet streaming services and the availability of live matches online, the rule is seen by many as outdated and unnecessary. Some argue that the rule no longer serves its intended purpose of encouraging fans to attend matches in person. With the increase of technology and the development of our understanding of online streaming, finding non-prohibited streams of live football games is becoming easier for the average fan. Meaning fans are no longer attending live matches or paying for live prohibited broadcasts.
Impact of the blackout rule on piracy
The Saturday 3pm blackout rule has had a significant impact on piracy. With live broadcasts of matches prohibited during this time, fans who are unable to attend matches in person have resorted to illegal streaming sites to watch live matches. These sites offer free access to live matches, which has led to a significant increase in online piracy.
The availability of illegal streaming sites has also had a negative impact on the revenue of football clubs. With more fans turning to illegal streams, football clubs are losing out on revenue from television broadcasting rights. Broadcast deals are shared between clubs, depending on how many of their games are broadcasted and numbers of viewers, clubs will take a percentage of the agreed deal. If viewership goes down then the live broadcasts are deemed less valuable, meaning deals won’t be as high, possibly reducing a large amount of revenue, especially for smaller clubs.
Potential solutions to combat piracy
To combat piracy, there have been calls to revise the Saturday 3pm blackout rule. Some argue that lifting the rule would make it easier for fans to legally access live matches, which would in turn reduce the demand for illegal streaming sites. Others argue the rule should be enforced more strictly to deter fans from accessing illegal streams.
Another potential solution is for football clubs to offer their own streaming services. This would allow fans to legally access live matches and would provide clubs with an additional revenue stream. However, this would be significant investment in technology and infrastructure, for a platform which may not succeed. This is an issue for smaller clubs who won’t be able to afford the development of a new streaming platform dedicated to just their games.
We have also seen in recent years the likes of Amazon Prime video and NowTV gaining the rights to broadcast Premier League games, with arguably great success. Amazon Prime has the rights to 20 Premier League games. When these games are broadcasted, fans can choose any game on that weekend to watch, this allows fans to ‘flick’ through each game. Although limited to the number of games they can broadcast due to partnerships with the likes of Sky and BT and the 3pm blackout. Amazon Prime has given football fans an example of the possible future of football broadcasting in the UK.
However, not every fan is onboard, there are those who still believe the 3pm blackout does serve its intended purpose. While there are potential solutions to combat piracy, there is no easy solution to this complex issue. Unfortunately, whatever the outcome, some fans will be upset, but will getting rid of the 3pm blackout combat piracy or will it have negative effects on live match attendance? There are some solutions, or other options that we have recently discussed in our blog on how the abolition of the 3pm blackout could be beneficial for clubs.