By Tony Attwood
Around eight years ago I wrote a piece suggesting that far from protecting football, the rule that said that there could be no broadcasting of live football at 3pm on a saturday afternoon was actually destroying the game.
And it has taken eight years, but now the Guardian is running a piece saying, “Lifting the Saturday 3pm blackout is one option the English Football League will consider in the sale of its next television and media rights.”
Now to be perfectly clear this is a deal relating to the Championship and Leagues One and Two, not the Premier League (of which, you may have noticed in passing, Arsenal are currently top).
The new deal, however it looks, will run from August 2024 onward and the league has expressed the view that it wants to grow its audience. To this end they proclaim that, “We are inviting proposals from organisations that can enhance and develop the league’s offering, taking a new and innovative approach to how people consume EFL content.” Adding just for fun…
“Alongside the EFL’s rich tradition and distinguished history there is a desire to evolve, grow and innovate in order to grow our audience further and we’re looking for a partner or partners who share that vision.”
Now I must admit I rarely go to see EFL matches, for if I do choose to take in a game when Arsenal are not playing, I go to watch my local team – Corby Town, who play in the Northern Premier League Midlands Division. (Corby are currently sixth, one place outside the playoff places – I thought you’d like to know).
So having live matches at 3pm on TV on a Saturday won’t affect me much although it is possible that on a cold wet Saturday I might prefer the comfort of my own home to the comforts of the main stand of Steel Park through which the wind can on occasion, gusting at quite a speed.
But what of the other Championship clubs playing at the same time as a live match is on TV? Will they lose their crowd?
I very much doubt it, because most of us either go no matter what, or don’t go anyway. In my case, the trip to the Arsenal stadium (or to be more precise the pub near the stadium where I meet friends and grab a spot of food before going on to the game) involves a car trip from my home to north London, a train journey with my friends from there on in, a walk to the pub, and after a modest level of consumption, a walk to the ground. Total travelling time (excluding time in the pub) around 2 hours 20 minutes each way.
And I do that because I enjoy seeing Arsenal in real life, I enjoy the companionship of my friends at the pub, I like the people I sit near (well, mostly) and it is a good chance to get out and about. And shout.
Of course in the Championship, a smaller percentage of those in the ground are season ticket holders, so some might be put off on a cold wet day, but I suspect not that many. The whole thing about live football is being there with friends, and enjoying the whole day. Including I might say the raving gibberish and allied nonsense on Radio 5 and TalkSport on the car radio, both on the way to the game and the way back. (There is, it seems, an alternative reality in which Arsenal are not top of the league, and in which the big news of the day is always Tottenham, Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool).
What I would really love to see would be a return to all games kicking off at 3pm on a saturday or 2pm on a sunday (to allow for the sunday timetables on the trains) then by and large we’d know where we were.
It would be an end to having to apologise to friends over and over for missing a social event (which in my case means going to a dance club although I believe alternative hobbies are also available) because suddenly the TV stations have arranged that a match that was going to be played on saturday at 3pm is now on a friday at 7.45, or sunday at noon, or monday at goodness knows what time. Other dates and times are also available.
Getting rid of the ban on live Saturday afternoon football on TV wouldn’t solve all the problems the media companies present to those of us who actually go to matches, and without whom there really wouldn’t be any football experience in the sense that it has been known for 100+ years. But it would be a start.
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