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EFL to end the 3pm blackout?

The EFL plans to make all matches from 2024-25 available for broadcast and streaming – which could see an end to the Saturday 3pm “blackout” in its competitions.

Rights for all 1,891 matches across the EFL, EFL Cup, EFL Trophy and play-off matches could be made available once the current five-year agreement with Sky Sports expires, with prospective bidders being required to submit their responses November 21st 2022.

EFL chief commercial officer, Ben Wright, says: “With 54% of the UK population watching EFL football on television each year and a global audience of more than 400 million, it’s an exciting time to be going to market for the league’s broadcast rights.

“Whilst the appetite for EFL football remains stronger than ever, we want to grow this audience further. 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.”

Sky Sports hold the rights to EFL live football at present while ITV can broadcast highlights. Sky Sports’ current deal gives them the rights to 138 games every season, including two from the Championship every week and midweek games on the red button. 

The EFL’s previous deal with Sky Sports was reported by the BBC to be worth £595m over the five-year deal – equating to £119m per season. Writing for the Daily Mail, Matt Hughes says they hope to increase that to £200m every year.

With a changing broadcast landscape the EFL will hope to attract interest from global platforms like Amazon, Apple TV and Netflix – or even social media giants such as Facebook and Instragram owners, Meta.

At the FSA AGM in past years many supporter-owned clubs and fan representatives from lower league clubs have expressed their concerns about the fall in attendances at their clubs, should the blackout end.

In 2013 Macclesfield Town’s CEO said going up against Manchester City in the Champions League midweek cost his club around 400 supporters on the gate.

The very existence of the blackout makes it difficult to gather data in this area, although Aston University’s February 2022 academic paper The Determinants of Grassroots English Football Attendance does add some context.

It found that the “blanket nature of the blackout rule makes it difficult to directly estimate the effect its removal would have on attendance at games. However, our results suggest that if moves are made to televise more top-flight football, it could assist grassroots football if the blackout period was maintained and televised matches were moved to other days of the week.”

What does the FSA think?

Kevin Miles, chief executive of the Football Supporters’ Association, said: “The UK’s footballing ecosystem is the envy of the world, with matchday attendances running all the way down to non-league and grassroots that dwarf those of elite level games in many other countries.

“Everyone is responsible for maintaining that environment in which football at all levels can not just survive, but thrive – so the professional game should exercise extreme caution before contemplating the end of the 3pm blackout.

“Removing the blackout would have dramatic consequences for the pyramid, many unforeseen, which is why FSA members up and down the pyramid have strongly resisted any relaxation of this protection.”

Update: This article initially said Quest had EFL highlights but they are now held by ITV.

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