Sunday 5 September 2021

Should home matches be streamed in the UK?

Addicks living outside the UK (and the crown dependencies) can currently pay to stream Charlton games.  For those of us who live a long way away from SE7, it would be good to be able to top up our season ticket with a streaming option.  Sometimes a five hour return journey is not feasible.

Article 48 of UEFA’s statutes allow member nations to select a two-and-a-half-hour weekend slot where live football is banned from screens. Some reports suggest its origins date back to the 1950s but in England, the rule only emerged in 1987 when ITV struck a major television deal with the Football League.

A little-known clause of Article 48 is that it requires 50 per cent of matches in England’s top two divisions to kick off at 3pm for it to come into effect. That means that during international week, for example, clubs in League One and Two could actually broadcast matches at that time.

The question of whether a TV blackout really does encourage people to attend in person has been studied. Jack Genovese, a senior analyst for Ampere, a leading data and analytics firm specialising in media, says that for top-tier events, the evidence is somewhat mixed.   [It has to be said that the evidence quoted relates to top flight leagues and different factors might well apply to League One].

“The Bundesliga offers the perfect counterpoint to the assertion that live broadcasting deters fans from going to see their favourite teams live,” he says. “In Germany, all Bundesliga matches are televised and the occupancy rate of stadiums is steadily above 90 per cent, in line with the Premier League.

“In Italy, where Serie A games are all available live on TV, the stadium occupancy rate is markedly lower: less than 70 per cent. This suggests that there are more factors than merely the live broadcasting of matches that influence football match attendance — such as prices, the quality of the infrastructure and the overall match-day experience.”

Genovese also points to a study conducted by Ofcom in 2016 which polled viewers’ attitudes towards a range of elements in football, including the 3pm blackout. He says: “The study showed that a TV broadcast had a ‘high’ impact on the decision to attend a live Premier League game for 42 per cent of respondents (‘mid’ impact on 26 per cent of respondents, and ‘low’ impact on 33 per cent). The day of the week and kick-off time, the teams involved, whether the match was an important one, and ticket prices, were all generally deemed more important factors in the decision to attend.

“The study also showed that the Saturday 3pm slot was by far the favourite time for Premier League fans to attend games (68 per cent, followed by Saturday lunchtime, which was selected by 33 per cent of respondents). In fact, 32 per cent of Premier League viewers said they were reluctant to attend matches at a time other than 3pm on a Saturday. It also showed that only about eight per cent of Premier League viewers were dissatisfied with the amount of coverage of the Premier League on TV.”

That is an aspect Harvey picks up: “Even broadcasters will have to ask themselves the question about saturation. The pandemic established that people picked and chose what they wanted to watch. Audiences were generally lower per game.”

Genovese says this is reflected in piracy issues as researched by Ampere: “Across 13 major media markets, the proportion of internet users who access illegal streaming websites or platforms in the last month has declined on average over the past three years. In quarter three of 2020, 4.4 per cent of UK internet users consumed online video content on pirate sites, down from 5.8 per cent in quarter three of 2017.”

Ampere drew the conclusion that “as more people have access to content legally online and on an affordable basis, their use of piracy websites decrease”.

Genovese adds: “The number of live matches available on TV is at an all-time high — to put it another way, consumers have never had access to as many live Premier League matches as they do now. Furthermore, the likes of Sky and BT have now resorted to sharing clips and highlights as closely as possible to the event — even during the events themselves — on their social channels to make up for the shortfalls in the live coverage due to the 3pm blackout, and limit the appeal of piracy websites.

“There is no doubt that the issue of piracy is a problem that deserves attention from the rights holders; however, I think that it increasingly less to do with the 3pm blackout itself.”

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