Amid rumoured interest from streaming services to lift the 60-year-old Saturday 3pm blackout rule, which forbids football matches from being televised at that time, Lincoln City fans have been voicing concerns that the plans could harm the English football pyramid beyond repair.
The English Football League (EFL) is reportedly considering interest from the likes of Apple, Amazon and Netflix to lift the 3pm blackout on Saturdays – set up to protect gate receipts for lower league football clubs and ensure matchday revenue for the teams that need it most.
The current rules of the blackout stops football matches being televised at 3pm on Saturdays, but with the EFL’s current £595 million deal with Sky Sports coming to an end in 2024, the league is now weighing up its options for the future.
It dates back to the 1960s and was designed to encourage fans to attend matches in person, and there are concerns that attendance figures would be drastically affected if the rule was scrapped moving forwards.
Fans were given a taster of what the blackout scrap may look like during the COVID-19 pandemic, when games were played behind closed doors and supporters could only watch their favourite team on streaming service iFollow – but that was stopped once stadiums could welcome fans again.
The Lincolnite put the question to those it would affect most – the supporters – to see what they think of the idea. Lincoln City fans were not totally on board with the idea, saying it could be detrimental to the future of not just their club, but others in the lower leagues of the football pyramid.
Blackout is “necessary” for lower league clubs
Gary Hutchinson, editor of The Stacey West site, says he is “hugely in favour” of the current blackout rule, despite it making his life harder when it comes to watching his beloved Imps play.
“Don’t be fooled – this is not a good thing for football clubs like Lincoln City, and it is worse for those below us. Smaller clubs rely on walk-ins on a Saturday and by putting the Premier League on, the so-called greatest league in the world, that walk-in would be sorely affected.
“Lifting the blackout would be terrible for the English game, and have long-lasting effects from which many clubs would not recover.
“It’s another power grab, like Project Big Picture and The European Super League, and a reflection of how those big clubs will just not stop until they’ve got even more money to keep to themselves. Just like the Conservatives.”
Jack Satterthwaite predicts that attendances will drop if fans are able to watch 3pm kick-offs on television, ultimately harming clubs across the country.
He said: “Watch the gates fall as fans stay at home to watch rather than go to the game, would kill some clubs off, especially those with smaller gates. The whole idea of the 3pm blackout was to encourage fans to watch the game in person and contribute some money on the gate to the club to keep them afloat, absolutely shocking from the EFL.”
This was echoed by Nick Procter, who commented: “Horrendous idea, risks the entire fabric of lower league and non-league football in this country.”
“Might increase revenue”
However, there are a section of supporters who can see the positives and benefits of scrapping the blackout, and making football more universally accessible at all levels.
Daniel Curtis said it would benefit teams on long away trips that some fans just cannot make, stating: “We have a lot of distance to travel in our league, personally I’m not prepared to travel to somewhere like Portsmouth, so I would love the opportunity to watch the team play on occasions like that.”
Jon Bennett said there would only be a “nominal” impact on gate receipts, and it could even encourage new viewers to attend football matches live in the future.
“Personally I think it’s a great idea”, he said. “It may have a nominal effect on gates in the short term, but it also has the ability to engage new or lapsed fans who may start coming to the ground in the longer term.”
Andy Townsend said the idea works in theory, but assurances would have to be made that all football clubs would benefit from the streaming of games, rather than the companies offering the service and the clubs at the top of the game.
He said: “Personally I think it’s a good idea for supporters that can’t get to games. I’m lucky that I don’t work weekends but not everyone is that lucky, or people live too far away to travel, so this would at least allow those people to still see the game live.
“However, so far I’ve only seen talk of Netflix, Amazon etc. showing games. If that’s the case then lower league clubs will lose out. No doubt the big clubs will want all the money for themselves and leave clubs like Lincoln to get the next to nothing.
“For this to work iFollow need to show games and any subscriptions to watch a game goes directly to the home club.”