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Influential MP and fans call on Premier League to reverse broadcast “lock out”

The chair of the influential All-Party Parliamentary Group for Football Supporters has written to the Premier League and called upon it reconsider its position on restricting broadcast access to UK audiences during the current pandemic.

Ian Mearns MP, who is a season ticket holder at Newcastle United, said he was “extremely disappointed” to learn that no streams or alternative options would be offered to season ticket holders and match-goers for games which will not be broadcast in the UK.

With the Premier League not due to see a return of supporters to stadiums in September, around a dozen matches are expected to be played behind-closed-doors with no live broadcast in the UK.

While a “phased return” is planned for October capacities will be hugely reduced, to between 17%-33% of normal capacity, dependent upon local implementation. Any supporter who misses out in that ballot then faces the very real possibility of missing their team’s games altogether, as only four out of 10 games will be broadcast throughout the season.

“Like many fans across the UK, I was extremely grateful with the pragmatic approach taken by the Premier League and UK broadcast partners to televise all matches as the game returned from the enforced break earlier in the summer,” writes Mearns.

Mearns points out that with social distancing set to remain in place indefinitely “this will mean that for many fans and season ticket holders, matches will take place involving their teams which they cannot view or cannot attend because they have missed out in the ballot or have underlying medical conditions.

“I would therefore urge you [the Premier League] to listen to supporters, reconsider your position, and come back to fans with new proposals which provide regular match-going supporters with alternative ways to watch their team, including streams provided by their clubs to known season ticket holders and other fans committed to purchasing a ticket to attend the match, if they cannot return to stadiums.”

What do Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and the UK have in common?

While the Football Supporters’ Association usually backs the Saturday 3pm blackout, as it is beneficial to lower league and non-league clubs, chief executive Kevin Miles pointed out that these are exceptional times.

“Watching our teams play is fundamental in the life of football fans, and when exceptional circumstances prevent the loyalest of fans from being at a game – whether because of health concerns or ticket availability – then exceptional measures are needed to allow some form of access to live games,” said Miles.

“Surely it can’t be the Premier League’s intention to drive fans towards the use of illegal unlicensed streams, yet we seem to be in the position where the only people who can’t legally watch those games live are the citizens of North Korea, Saudi Arabia – and law-abiding fans of Premier League clubs in the UK.”

The EFL have already announced a deal with Sky Sports which will allow locked out, but otherwise regular match-goers, to stream games via their iFollow service.

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