What is the 3pm blackout?
The UK's football TV blackout rule prevents live football matches from being televised between 2.45pm and 5.15pm on Saturday afternoons. The blackout rule was introduced during the 1960s when Football League chairmen believed televised matches had a negative impact on attendances at matches being played at the same time.
UEFA’s Article 48 ensures European national football associations have the right to prevent matches from being televised within a certain window, but only the English FA currently makes use of the option.
Many UK football fans feel the ruling is outdated in this day and age, especially when streams of these matches are so readily available to watch online. The issue is compounded by the fact that at least one live Saturday 3pm Premier League match can be viewed in the vast majority of countries outside the UK.
Supporters of the rule believe removing the blackout would
threaten the sanctity of the traditional Saturday 3pm kick-off. Fans of the most frequently shown Premier League teams rarely witness a Saturday 3pm kick-off and fans of lower-league clubs are rightly fearful of a potential decrease in attendances.
Findings from the European Court of Justice suggest the blackout period has little or no impact on attendances; however, it is easy to foresee a situation where less ardent fans opt to watch live Premier League matches from the comfort of their own home instead of supporting their local club.
Recent Premier League TV deals have increased the number of matches that are televised due to matches being shown in new timeslots and multiple matches being broadcast simultaneously. The current deal allows for 200 live matches to be shown each season, so we’ve already reached the stage where the majority of games are now broadcast.
This trend is likely to continue and, if the blackout isn’t removed, it’s feasible we could reach a stage where the vast majority of Premier League matches no longer occur during the blackout window in order to facilitate additional matches being shown live.
The blackout rule has also impacted live coverage of the major European leagues in the UK including El Clasico, arguably the biggest match in world football. Eleven Sports briefly challenged the rule by broadcasting Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao at 3.15pm on Saturday 29th September 2018. However, they backed down after receiving pressure from their broadcasting partners. The broadcast of matches from European leagues continues to be disrupted with La Liga's Saturday 3pm match unavailable to UK viewers and viewers regularly missing the first 15 minutes of Serie A’s 5pm match.
The blackout rule was temporarily lifted at the resumption of the 2019/20 season to enable all behind closed doors matches to be broadcast during the pandemic. The suspension continued throughout the 2020/21 season until the rule was reinstated at the beginning of the 2021/22 season.