Eleven Sports back down over TV blackout but say current rule leaves market in ‘hands of criminals’

Jack Watson

Eleven Sports streaming service has backed down on their stance of broadcasting matches live for UK viewers during the Saturday afternoon blackout, but says the market remains in the hands of ‘criminals’ if the current format continues.

A rule in England that prevents football from being screened live between 2:45pm and 5:15pm to encourage supporters to attend matches or take part in local football has been in place since the 1950s, but Eleven Sports twice showed La Liga matches during this time and broke Uefa’s article 48 that bans it.

Founded by Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani, Eleven Sports has the rights to show La Liga and Serie A matches in the UK and has challenged the ‘unfit’ current model, but has briefly backed down after pressure from stakeholders.

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“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 said in a statement.

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premier-league-tv-0.jpg

In England no matches can be shown live between 2: 45pm and 5: 15pm on Saturday (Getty)

“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 naïve to think that fans do not want them because they are not shown on legitimate platforms, except betting sites.”

The Premier League protested to the FA over the blackout breach, who took the matter to Uefa but did not submit an official complaint against Eleven Sports.

A spokesperson for the FA said: “We are aware of the matter and are looking into it through the appropriate channels.”

The English Football League have not commented, but a Premier League spokesperson said: “Along with other English football stakeholders, the Premier League continues to support the closed period to encourage attendances and participation through the football pyramid.”

The streaming site claims that continuing to enforce a blackout on Saturday afternoon means that the market is in the hands ‘criminals’ who operate illegal online streams.

“It is irresponsible to leave the market in the hands of criminals," it said.

“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.

Andrea Radrizzani
Andrea Radrizzani

Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani wants to shake things up (Getty)

“With the best interests of football fans at heart, we are currently considering all legal and regulatory options, including the referral of the case to the appropriate authorities.”

“The rule should be considered,” added Radrizzani. “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. 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.”

La Liga support Eleven Sports’ stance and added that the old rule is outdated. “This type of blackout doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s from a different age,” Joris Evers, La Liga’s chief communications officer told The Times.

“We are aware of what Eleven Sports are doing and generally support them. People are used to watching things whenever and where 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.”

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