Eleven Sports says controversial football ‘blackout’ rule is fuelling piracy

Eleven Sports has announced that, for the time being at least, it will stop showing football matches during the controversial Saturday afternoon blackout period.

The rule, which was introduced the 1960s, prevents live football from being broadcast in the UK between 2:45pm and 5:15pm on Saturdays. However, Eleven Sports chose to ignore the blackout on September 29 and October 6, and live streamed Barcelona vs Athletic Bilbao and Getafe vs Levante (both of which kicked off at 3:15pm UK time) in full.

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According to Eleven Sports, the Saturday afternoon blackout is “one of the biggest generators of piracy in the UK”.

“Out of respect for the wishes of our partners, we will for the time being no longer show matches during the Saturday afternoon blackout period,” Eleven Sports announced in a strongly worded statement posted to Facebook over the weekend.

“We maintain our strong view that the rule, which dates back to the 1950s, is unfit for the modern, digital era − particularly for overseas games which we hold the rights to.

“The blackout is one of the biggest generators of piracy in the UK. These games are very easily accessed on illegal sites online and it is naive to think that fans do not watch them because they are not shown on legitimate platforms, except betting sites.

“It is irresponsible to leave the market in the hands of criminals.”

The Saturday afternoon blackout is designed to encourage people to attend Saturday afternoon games instead of watching whichever fixtures happen to be on TV at the time.

It’s the reason why most big-name Premier League encounters take place at lunchtime or early evening on Saturdays, or Sunday afternoons or Monday evenings, and why the final day of the season − for the top flight and each of the other Football Leagues − is always a Sunday. Exceptions are made for the FA Cup final.

The rule is considered to be archaic by many, including La Liga, which recently praised Eleven Sports for challenging it.

“This type of blackout doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s from a different age. We are aware of what Eleven Sports are doing and generally support them,” Joris Evers, La Liga’s chief communications officer, told The Times (via SportsPro Media) in early October.

“People are used to watching things whenever and wherever they take place, on whatever devices they like. Today many people watch football in other ways, through piracy or video feeds or betting companies. And there are other sports like rugby that are screened at that time on a Saturday.”

However, the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) isn’t convinced by the piracy argument.

“There is always going to be an attraction for certain people to obtain programmes of interest that are not available by legal means.” FACT told Trusted Reviews. “However, we haven’t seen anything that tells us that this is any more of a problem than illegal streaming of other live sports broadcasts”.

Eleven Sports, meanwhile, says it is “currently considering all legal and regulatory options, including the referral of the case to the appropriate authorities”.

The company’s statement continues: “Fans in the UK should have the freedom and the choice to watch these games legally through the official rights holder, as they do all over the world. Regrettably, intense pressure from stakeholders within the football establishment means that football fans across the country do not have this option.”

In order to comply with the rule, Eleven Sports will likely stream any matches that overlap with the blackout period in full from 5:15pm.

The Premier League continues to support the blackout. “Along with other English football stakeholders the Premier League continues to support the closed period to encourage attendances and participation through the football pyramid,” a spokesperson said.

“The amount of football broadcast live in the UK must be balanced against the thousands of amateur teams that play across England on Saturday afternoons, and the 92 professional clubs that work hard to fill their stadiums on match-days.”

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Earlier this month, Andrea Radrizzani, Eleven Sports’ founder, called for the rule to be debated. “The rule should be reconsidered. There are betting websites which are showing the game live while we legitimately paid for the rights but cannot show it, according to law 48,” he said.

“Also, there are many illegal sites and pirates that we should fight against. So I would love to open a conversation, in a friendly way, to find a solution.

“I would also like to understand why this is competing with ticket sales in UK stadiums. Why not the Tour de France or other events that happen at the same time live on TV?”

Which side of the argument are you on? Share your views with us on Twitter @TrustedReviews.