Since the 1960s Britain has had a ludicrous rule in place, that's so horrendously dumb that even the football-hating me has an opinion on it. Essentially the law says you can't broadcast Saturday afternoon football on TV, because some people were worried fans would stay at home instead of going to real-life matches. So fans are left with the choice of attending the game in person (not always an option) or watching an illegal stream. So, to try and combat the piracy issue, streaming service Eleven Sports has opted to ignore the ban.
By ignore I don't mean that the service is showing any of the British leagues, because that might be pushing it a bit (also there may be rights issues to contend with). But the broadcasting ban also affects foreign games, which is even more spectacularly stupid since Brits can't easily go and see those games in person. So Eleven Sports has decided to broadcast games from Spain's La Liga during the blackout period - which is between 2.45pm and 5.15pm for those who don't 'do' football.
This breach of rules started on 29th September with Eleven Sports streaming a game between Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao. A game that kicked off at 3:15pm, firmly within the blackout window. It did it again last Saturday, and according to the service it has plans to continue. In their view not giving people the option to watch the games is only going to drive them towards piracy, and this way there's an option to do everything legally. It also brings in revenue for the company, which is always a good thing from a business perspective.
According to the company's Facebook page Eleven Sport disagrees with the ban, and has decided to do what it believes is right for its customers. Unsurprisingly it also has the support of La Liga itself, with Chief communications officer Joris Evers telling Bloomberg that upholding the ban "doesn't make much sense". He pointed out that people are watching the games anyway, with the implication being that they might as well have the opportunity to do it legally.
The Football Association says it will be looking into the breach "through the appropriate channels", though UEFA says it has been in touch with the Football Association and hasn't received any complaints yet. On top of this, speaking to City.am, corporate sports lawyer Satish Khandke says the move has the potential to undermine the whole stupid ban.
If the Spanish FA or Uefa does enforce the blackout, Eleven might argue that the blackout is unnecessary and anti-competitive, particularly as it is only operated in one EU member state, and so is unenforceable. If the blackout is not enforced or is successfully challenged, it is likely that companies having rights to show overseas games in the UK would all start to show them on Saturday afternoons.
Once that happens, then the UK blackout would probably end as it could not be enforced selectively against some broadcasters but not others. That would mean that domestic matches could also be broadcast in the UK on Saturday afternoons – ending the status of Saturday afternoons as a “haven” from televised football. With the potential for TV schedules to become awash with live football, the impact on attendances at live games would remain to be seen.
I'm no expert on football, but I know plenty of people who go to live matches regardless of whether they're on TV or not. There's the whole atmosphere of being in the ground and watching something live and up-close, especially with all those other people. I'm assuming anyway. It's been about 20 years since I went to a football game, and I never particularly enjoyed it. Maybe it will affect attendance, maybe it won't. But what I can predict is that letting people watch Saturday games legally should make a dent in the piracy figures. It won't kill it off completely, because some people refuse to pay for access to televised football, but a dent is better than nothing. [Bloomberg via TorrentFreak]