3pm Blackout: A dinosaur concept in a modern game

Dan Thomas argues about whether we all should be scrambling around a laptop screen to watch a dodgy stream for 3pm games in this day and age
Dan Thomas  |  22nd January 2019

It’s been an unusual couple of weeks for Liverpool fans – we’ve not had either of our last two games shown live.

Saturday 3pm kick offs are an increasing rarity in football and in particular for the Reds – we are statistically the most televised team in the country. That is no great surprise given how good we are to watch and how many goals we score.

However, one thing that isn’t clear to me is why we are still living in an age when we cannot watch live games on a Saturday at 3pm. The last two games have demonstrated this whole debate to a tee. We are knee deep in a title race and yet all I could do for the Brighton game was chew my fingernails to the bone whilst watching Soccer Saturday in a bar in Blackpool.

I am fortunate enough to be able to attend all games at Anfield, but there is only a finite amount of people who we can get through the turnstiles.

Tickets for Liverpool games are not easy to come by anymore.

The last time tickets were not a rare commodity at Anfield was at the tail end of Brendan Rodgers’ reign as our wheels spun off and an inexperienced manager lost sight of what he wanted to be. Since Jürgen Klopp took over, everyone wants to get to the game and the ticketing situation reflects this.

And so for those who can’t get to the game who live in the UK, the Saturday afternoon ritual is to find a stream of the game on the internet. This is often sat watching a stream from American or Arabic television channels huddled around your laptop. But we all know that one pub that “should have the game on” and those landlords are risking a huge fine by showing the game in the pub.

The big question for me is not whether that is right or wrong, but why is this still happening in 2019?

Overseas TV rights are worth a fortune to the Premier League and we all know the implications of the ridiculous sums of money that Sky Sports and BT Sport pay for the rights to games. The size of the average transfer fee and wage tells you all you need to know on that front.

But to me, the law is out of date. It is not a licensing restriction but a legal one that prevents live football being shown (legally) at 3pm on a Saturday. The Saturday “blackout” was introduced in the 1960s. Then Burnley chairman Bob Lord led a school of thought that televised games would impact the attendances of non-televised games. Therefore, all televised games must end before 2:45pm on a Saturday, or kick off after 5:15pm.

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Ever wondered why the final day of the season is played on a Sunday at 3pm? It’s because of this blackout. It is a 1960s law and school of thought that has no place in 2019. The European Court of Justice came to a 2011 conclusion that this has not increased or decreased attendances at grounds. It says it all that not even Barcelona vs Real Madrid has to be shown after 5:15pm even if it has happened at 3pm. That is frankly ridiculous.

Ultimately, if an Accrington Stanley fan wants to go and watch their team, the fact that Liverpool are playing Crystal Palace is not going to stop them. They will continue to go and watch their game irrespective of what is available to them on television. They certainly aren’t going to be drawn away from the allures of the Crown Ground to stay at home and watch El Clasico.

The law has been further outdated by the evolution of technology – if this entirely fictional Accrington Stanley fan really, really did want to watch Liverpool vs Crystal Palace, they now have the ability to record live sporting events and watch them back at a time of their choosing. They could ultimately have their cake and eat it at their own leisure later on.

It really does surprise me that the Premier League have not tried to change the law. They are already getting an eye watering sum of money from the TV companies but what is to stop them having their own on demand service? Any game that has not been chosen by a TV company is in theory available to be streamed.

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Am I missing something obvious? Is it not an invitation to make money hand over fist? I would certainly be very interested in buying a package that offered every Liverpool away game that isn’t live. A lot of people would be very interested in getting a package for every game home and away. This looks to me like an invitation to print money and yet it has not come to fruition.

In many ways we’re quite lucky when it comes to TV games (ridiculous and unfair kick off times aside) because we’re on a lot. If you can’t be there, it’s possible to watch us most of the time.

But that Brighton game was hell and it would have been the same for many people for the Crystal Palace game.

Surely there has to be an easier way than watching an atrocious stream with Russian commentary that doesn’t stutter as frequently as Arkwright from Open All Hours? And if you were trying to watch the Crystal Palace game, if you’re anything like me, you watched it through your fingers anyway!

Surely a point has come now where the Premier League should look to challenge that law – it would certainly benefit us all on the rare weekends when we’re not live.

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