What is football's Saturday 3pm TV blackout? UK's archaic rule explained

English football fans have been able to enjoy live coverage of all Premier League matches in the last week, including Arsenal's thrilling 4-3 win at Luton Town clinched by Declan Rice's last-minute winner (Getty Images)
English football fans have been able to enjoy live coverage of all Premier League matches in the last week, including Arsenal's thrilling 4-3 win at Luton Town clinched by Declan Rice's last-minute winner (Getty Images)

Amazon Prime broadcast three consecutive days of Premier League football matches in the UK last week.

Fans were able to watch all the live matches, which kicked off between 7.30pm and 8.15pm, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (December 5-7).

On Tuesday, Arsenal beat Luton Town 4-3 away after England midfielder Declan Rice scored the winner in the 97th minute.

The following night, among the highlights was reigning champions Manchester City losing ground in the title race after going down 1-0 away to Aston Villa.

West Ham then beat Tottenham 2-1 in a London derby on Thursday.

But normally, fans cannot watch all of the fixtures because of the famous Saturday 3pm blackout.

What is it and why does it exist?

Here is everything we know:

What is football's Saturday 3pm TV blackout?

The 3pm blackout has been in force since long before the 1992 inception of the Premier League. Saturday 3pm kick-offs cannot be televised in the UK, with broadcasters able to show only the early and late matches on national television.

Traditionally, most games on a Saturday are supposed to be played at 3pm, although some are moved for TV rights.

The rule states that in England, no football is allowed to be broadcast on live television on any Saturday between 2.45pm and 5.15pm.

Why is there a 3pm TV blackout?

The rule was first introduced in the 1960s.

The Burnley chairman at the time, Bob Lord, argued to the Football League that televising top-tier matches would affect lower-league clubs' attendances. This was an era when gate receipts were clubs' main source of income

Have there been any exceptions to the 3pm blackout?

The only exception has been the FA Cup Final, which used to always be broadcast at 3pm on a Saturday in May. It featured a full day of coverage on the TV.

But in 2012, this trend ended and the FA Cup Final was moved to a 5pm kick-off.

Even matches on the final day of the league season, which often decides who will be champions or who will be relegated, all have to be played on a Sunday.

Does the 3pm blackout cover all forms of media?

No, the 3pm blackout is for only televised games. Radio services are allowed to provide commentary on 3pm games.

Which countries observe the 3pm blackout?

The UK is the only country to observe this rule, leading fans to question why it is still in place here.

Major European leagues such as those in France, Spain, Germany and Italy allow all games to be shown. Those countries also broadcast live coverage of the Premier League 3pm matches.

Is the 3pm blackout here to stay?

The English Football League (EFL) in October 2022 suggested it could consider lifting the blackout in its TV rights sale, from 2024-25 onwards.

EFL director Rick Parry said: "We are almost unique in Europe now in having a blackout period. I’m not presuming that it [the 3pm blackout] goes, but equally, if we’re looking at streaming, at new technologies and new broadcasters, we will probably have to be open-minded in terms of scheduling."

But earlier this week, it was revealed that the 3pm blackout was here to stay for the foreseeable future.

The Premier League had previously announced its tender process for UK television rights up until the 2028/29 season. This confirmed a substantial increase in matches that will be broadcast.

Domestic broadcasters were then invited to bid for five packages across four seasons, with the number of matches shown rising from 200 to 270.

This includes an additional midweek round of matches, while all Sunday 2pm kick-offs will now be broadcast. However, the 3pm blackout has been protected, meaning no matches can be televised from 2.25pm to 5.25pm on that day — at least until the new deal ends in 2029.

Last week, it was announced who won the TV contracts. Sky Sports will screen a minimum of 215 Premier League matches a season as part of a domestic rights agreement worth a record £6.7 billion.

The broadcaster secured four of the five packages on offer in the league's latest domestic rights tender which starts in 2025-26. TNT Sports netted the other package of 52 games.

Amazon Prime, which shows 20 matches per season under the Premier League's current deal, has not secured rights for the new domestic cycle.

Sky's deal means it will screen up to 100 matches a season more than it currently does, the broadcaster said. It keeps hold of the key Super Sunday 4.30pm slot and will broadcast all 10 final-day matches for the first time.