Premier League TV Quirk: Manchester United and Liverpool Fans Left In The Dark
A Pivotal Weekend in English Football
The curtain is drawing on the Premier League title race, yet the skirmishes for top-four places and Champions League qualifications are still ablaze. Newcastle, comfortably positioned at third, and Manchester United, slightly edgy at fourth, are just a point above Liverpool, who are on a tantalising seven-match winning streak.
However, this weekend’s pivotal fixtures involving these clubs will not be gracing UK television screens, thanks to a peculiar broadcasting regulation in the UK.
Matchday Blackout: A Tradition or Anachronism?
The inability to watch Liverpool clash with Aston Villa and Manchester United face Bournemouth places UK viewers in an exclusive group alongside those in Cuba, North Korea, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan. In contrast, 189 other countries will be relishing the live Premier League action.
This emanates from the notorious English football’s ‘blackout rule’, a product of Article 48 of UEFA’s statutes that grants member nations the liberty to enforce a two-and-a-half-hour weekend slot devoid of live football on screens.
Emerging in 1987, when ITV struck a major television deal with the Football League, the rule was designed to safeguard matchday attendance and grassroots participation. The FA, together with broadcasters, declared the period from 2.45pm to 5.15pm sacred, even extending the restriction to foreign matches.
Modern Media and the Blackout Rule
Criticisms of the blackout rule as being obsolete in the digital era have been frequent, with broadcasting company Eleven Sports famously but unsuccessfully challenging the regulation in 2018 after airing two rounds of La Liga and Serie A games during the blackout slot.
Interestingly, when the EFL opened up the possibility of broadcasting every game during their last round of television rights negotiation, streaming network DAZN tabled an offer that proposed abolishing the 3pm blackout. However, the EFL decided to stick with Sky Sports, who retained the 3pm broadcast blackout, suggesting that this tradition isn’t going anywhere soon.
The Race for the Top Four: A Preview
Regardless of the broadcast restrictions, the top-four battle continues. Manchester City and Arsenal have secured their top-four spots, with City on 85 points and Arsenal on 81. Newcastle and Manchester United share 66 points, but Newcastle’s superior goal difference places them in third. Lurking just behind is Liverpool, with 65 points but having played an extra game.
While Manchester United travel to Bournemouth and Liverpool face Aston Villa, Newcastle will be engaging Leicester on Monday, May 22. However, these fixtures will only be visible to viewers in the US and non-UK locations.
The Final Act
Broadcasters are yet to decide on the games to showcase after this weekend, a decision likely to be influenced by the status of the Champions League places and the relegation battle. Given the title race’s near conclusion, the focus might shift to the top-four race and the relegation scrap. The last day fixtures all kick off at 4.30pm BST on May 22, meaning they will not be affected by the blackout rule.
Thus, while the blackout rule persists, the drama of the Premier League, featuring the heated race involving Manchester United and Liverpool, will continue to unfold, on TV or not.