I can’t help but feel there is something completely wrong with the fact that there is a 3pm blackout on television for Premier League games kicking off at this time. It is beyond belief that you can go away to any country in Europe, Asia and African and find your team’s 3pm match televised, and yet, supporters in England have to make do with a ridiculous internet feed that conveniently cuts out or freezes whenever a crucial moment in the game approaches. Well it’s about time the Premier League started to make changes and introduce televised games no matter their kick-off time, just like the rest of Europe.
The actions of Karen Murphy, a pub landlady in Portsmouth, may set the ball rolling in a positive direction. She argued that while she was televising 3pm kick-offs in her pub through the use of foreign satellite channels, there was nothing illegal in her actions despite the ban enforced in England. Clearly, she’d found a way around the nonsensical ban that has been put in place and that everyone has for some reason come to accept. Rather than paying through the roof for one broadcaster that limited the amount of games that were shown, she has given herself the choice of provider and has only been paying a tenth of that price and has offered a better option than the increasingly frustrating but overly popular internet streams.
The Premier League has said many times that the 3pm kick-off will not be televised because it will discourage people from attending matches. In my eyes, the story becomes even more ridiculous when that is the primary excuse given. I’ve failed to see a drop in attendances for games at Old Trafford when Manchester United matches have been televised by either Sky or ESPN. Similarly, team’s like Newcastle continue to have healthy attendances. It’s down to the support of the fans and their desire to travel to home or away matches that dictates how many people are in attendance, not whether their team are being televised. But forget for a moment the notion that supporters will be discouraged from attending games if they are televised and rather look to the hugely inflated costs of going to football matches. The story of the first £100 ticket became a significant talking point last season; something which is exactly the sort of thing to discourage people from going to matches.
Yes, there may be changes lower down the leagues, where, like the top divisions in the country, there is a desire to preserve the traditional Saturday match-day experience with a healthy attendance at grounds, and even those who are casual fans might want to go along to support their local team. But why is this limited to only England? It’s almost as if we, as supporters, are being guided through what is right and wrong and having our minds made up for us. If people are shelling out huge sums of money for monthly subscriptions to BSkyB, then shouldn’t fans have a say in what they decide to do with their Saturdays, whether it be to attend the games or watch from home, without the Premier League or any other football organisation spelling out why it is such a hideous idea and one that could ruin English football. I’m not suggesting football fans have a divine right to watch all of their team’s matches on television, but simply why is there not an option when other countries, where the Premier League is of greater interest than their own leagues, have the freedom to choose which of the 3pm kick-offs they’d like to watch.
As I’ve made the point, England seem to be the only major league in Europe where such a ban is enforced, and there is no reasonable explanation as to why fans in the country suffer for it. Internet feeds from various countries with a number of language options except English have become part of the furniture for most football households in the country on a Saturday afternoon, and yet, that seems to be ok by the Premier League and something they’ll continue to ignore. Well what difference would it make if those feeds were translated into broadcasts through Sky?
What the Premier League fail to recognise is that there is such thing as non-football cities or towns. By that I mean that places like Wigan, who share a ground with a rugby team, are going to experience lower attendances, and not because a more high profile game is televised at the time Wigan kick-off. Places like that suffer for other reasons and shouldn’t be used as an excuse to defend the 3pm blackout. It’s the same in North America: practically every city in the county is an American football city or town, from little leagues, through high school and college football and up to the NFL. But not every city is a baseball city, and most certainly, not every city is a hockey city.
But what about the other side of the coin; would lower league sides not benefit greatly if they were given more television exposure for their afternoon kick-offs. They rely on gate attendances, well why not get them involved in the revenue from television like clubs in the Premier League. It gives them a chance to open up to a wider audience than just those who reside in the immediate area. Of course, we just start the cycle all over again and we’re back to the topic of low attendances.
Maybe the easiest thing to do is simply change the kick-off times. Why does every match bar the 12:45 Sky game or 5:30 ESPN game have to kick-off at 3pm? Simply shift times around and allow lower league teams to play their matches at different times to those of the Premier League. Easier said than done, of course, but surely there is enough of a reason to end the 3pm blackout than the tired excuse the Premier League continue to give.