Tag Archives: Economics

Time to shine a light on the 3pm kick-off blackout

Rather than helping football fans and lower-league clubs, the ban on televising games that kick off at 3pm on a Saturday is actually making life harder for fans, and needlessly pushing up prices.

Here we look at why the ban on televised games at 3pm on a Saturday is no longer needed.

Half of Premier League to be televised from 2018 

Today the Premier League announced that from the 2018-19 season, it would televise a minimum of 190 Premier league games. Half of all games in the season. However, it comes with an implicit catch – since these games cannot be televised at 3pm on a Saturday, it means that more top-flight games will need to be show at other times, which many fans see as a major inconvenience.

Remarkably, rather than welcoming the fact they can watch more of their teams’ games than ever, many fans see this as a further erosion of the game they knew and love. The Football Supporters Federation have expressed their concern and opposition to further increases.

The origins of the TV Blackout

The ban on televising games between the hours of 2.45pm and 5.15pm on a Saturday dates back to 1960 when it was adopted by Football League Chairman, to protect attendances at smaller clubs.

Three reasons the rationale is weak if not dead

The original argument was that fans would not attend lower league games if they could watch top-flight games on TV. But there are at least three reasons why this rationale is weak.

First, no other industry would be allowed to club together and protect each other from competition. Imagine if cinemas agreed that no-one could rent a film at home on a Wednesday night because it would damage local movie theaters.

Second, lower and non-league clubs would not be less viable. Many other countries do without the ban – this includes France, Germany, Italy and Spain. (the source is from 2011). Many lower league football clubs now generate millions in income. Some still survive by the skin of their teeth – but this rather reinforces the point that the viability of clubs in the lower divisions has not been cured by higher income alone.

Third, assuming that lower league football and televised premier league games are in direct competition, then the ultimate result for match-attending fans would be that ticket prices would fall as owners are forced to compete. This might reverse some of their rises over the past twenty years. A “National League South”  club near me charges £15 a game. Perhaps it needs a bit more competition.

Tradition can obscures fans’ interests

Like so many things in football, the economic truth is obscured and the Premier League can take advantage of certain traditions (like the 3pm blackout) while ignoring others (like moving 3pm kick-offs).

The 3pm black-out rule is archaic and works against fans. Allowing games on television on a Saturday at 3pm would increase the number of games fans could see, lower prices for everyone, and give more people access to the game.  See the light, it’s time to end the blackout.

Friday night Premier League football – how many tuned in?

Friday 14th August saw an unusual event – a televised Premier League football game.  We look at how many people tuned in, and whether Friday night could become the new Sunday afternoon.

The FA and Premier League have been at pains to point out this was due to “unique circumstances” but, from 16/17, Friday night games are part of the TV package so this serves as an interesting experiment.

The headline figure from the Broadcast Audience Research Service released figures this week suggested 861k viewers tuned in to Sky Sports 1 for the Friday evening game of Aston Villa vs Manchester United. This was higher than both the 612k who watched Manchester United defeat Tottenham in the season opener on BT Sport the previous Saturday, and the 663k who watched West Brom vs Man City on Sky Sports on the previous Monday. However, Sunday afternoon games tend to attract over a million viewers (see below) and that was the case here as 1.3m saw West Ham upset at Arsenal.  Of course, the opening weekend figures may have been buoyed by the two-month summer break and these figures don’t account for those watching in a pub. Still, the margin here is big enough to suggest Friday night is less attractive to home viewers than Sunday afternoon.

Arguably the most interesting comparison is with the Saturday night football the Friday game replaced.  Again using the opening weekend as a reference (Sat 8th August) 857k watched Chelsea vs Swansea on Saturday night – so, arguably a similar game and very similar to Friday’s 861k.  Looking back to spring, other similar Saturday night games also attracted under a million – for example 828k for United vs West Bromich Albion; 973k for Crystal Palace vs United.

So, the Friday night figure appears in line with similar Saturday games. If the ‘novelty factor’ of a Friday game boosted the figures this could point to Friday being less attractive than Saturday – though the opposite could be true if watching on Friday becomes a ‘habit’. A Friday game could also shift some demand away from the other weekend viewing slots.

The first weekend’s figures may disappoint BT Sport. For the big kick-off last year,  they achieved 818k viewers for Man United vs Swansea – so this year’s figure of 612k is down by more than 25%. Still, both figures were well-up on the 451k who watched the opening encounter in BT’s first season in 2013 (Liverpool vs Stoke). It’s probably too early to say how BT’s prices changes and the addition of Champions and Europa League will affect viewing overall.

Looking more broadly at viewing figures, last year Sky Sports achieved up to 2.1m for a key game in winter and several intra-top-four games attracted over 1.5m. Outside of the top 6, a good example might be 1.1m for Sunderland vs Newcastle in early April. England internationals attract much bigger audiences – it’s unusual they attract under 4m viewers, and in the knock-out stages of major tournaments, viewers can exceed 20m.

In terms of key points then, Friday night’s game appears similar to Saturday night in terms of attractiveness to viewers and BT Sport got 25% fewer viewers for the opening game than last year. This is a relatively simple analysis – we plan to undertake more detailed analysis and modelling of what drives Premier League and England TV audiences in the coming weeks. Get in touch if you’d like to sponsor or report on that work .