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English football’s 3pm blackout rule ‘to remain lifted’ for new season

UK football fans are set to be able to watch live coverage of every single Premier League match when the 2020-21 season begins after it emerged that the broadcast blackout legislation for fixtures on Saturday at 3pm will remain lifted.

The new season is scheduled to begin on September 12, with all matches continuing to be played without fans due to ongoing restrictions imposed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

All matches held at the end of the 2019-20 season were available to watch live on television after the 3pm blackout was lifted.

The English Football Association (FA) has agreed to retain the lifting of the blackout until fans are allowed back in stadiums, according to The Times. It is hoped that a limited number of fans can return to matches from the start of October.

Although the Premier League had initially planned on reverting to the original terms of its contracts with rights-holders Sky and BT Sport, the pay-television broadcasters, for the 2020-21 campaign, pressure from clubs has led the league to change tack amid concerns that fans would seek out illegal streams of non-televised fixtures.

Last season, UK public-service broadcaster the BBC showed four live Premier League matches, marking the first time it had shown any live top-tier English football action since the 1987-88 season. Online retail giant Amazon also showed its four extra matches on a free-to-view basis. Sky made 25 matches available on its free-to-air digital terrestrial channel PickTV, but the pay-television broadcaster is not expected to do the same for the upcoming season, it is claimed.

Sky also holds rights to the English Football League (EFL) and earlier this week the two parties reached an agreement whereby all matches not shown by the broadcaster will be available to stream on the EFL’s iFollow platform or clubs’ equivalent services for a match pass price of £10 (€11/$13).

Season-ticket holders of Championship, League One and League Two clubs will be provided with access to all home matches, subject to the agreement of the club. Sky is set to show 130 live EFL matches during the 2020-21 season.

The 3pm blackout was first brought in in the 1960s and is designed to encourage fans to go to matches on Saturday afternoons.

The English and Scottish FAs initially approached European football’s governing body Uefa with the request to lift the blackout, which is underpinned by Article 8 of Uefa’s regulations. The ruling forbids live broadcasts of domestic or foreign matches between 2:45pm and 5:15pm on Saturdays.

Uefa is not responsible for enforcing the broadcasting blackout ban; that is the responsibility of the relevant FAs, which decide on their requested blackout hours and submit them to Uefa under Article 8. Montenegro is the only other European country that has a similar television broadcast blackout period.

In 2018, the subscription broadcaster Eleven Sports protested against the legislation by streaming live coverage of Saturday-afternoon LaLiga matches to UK viewers.