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UK government ‘demanding’ free-to-air 3pm Saturday games for Premier League restart

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Needed change

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Tottenham Hotspur v Watford FC - Premier League Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

One of the more unique aspects of the standard Premier League broadcast TV coverage in the UK is that games at the traditional 3pm kick-off time on Saturday are not allowed to be legally shown on television. (In fact, no football from any country is allowed to be shown between 2:45pm and 5:15pm on Saturdays, which makes for extra weird cases such as coverage cutting in mid-way through La Liga matches, for example.)

But those were the old rules.

The (sports) world is changing, and rules must change along with them. After all, rules that were designed to protect the “stadium experience” are not going to be serving any good until fans are allowed back into stadiums in the first place.

(Of course, whether those rules were doing any good in the first place is up for debate — the idea that fans would be more inclined to go to watch (local, lower division) football in person if they couldn’t watch their favorite Premier League team on television is about as silly as the NFL’s old blackout rules, which were at long last abolished in 2014.)

In any case, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, who seems to be figure-head for the UK government in all Premier League matters, has made it pretty clear what the government’s stance is on this issue now.

“We have to respect the existing rights that the broadcasters have but I do think we’ve actually got some flexibility if you look at Saturday afternoons.

“It has been the case that Premier League matches can’t be broadcast by broadcasters, the idea was that people should not be able to watch them in the stadium, so they didn’t want to compete (against the clubs)… clearly that won’t be possible if we compete behind closed doors. I think that creates an opportunity for us to be able to get some sport, some Premier League free to air. Those discussions are on-going.”

-Oliver Dowden; source: Telegraph

Of all the issues currently under debate for the Premier League’s Project Restart, this seems to be one with a rather clear and straightforward solution. At this point, as detailed by the Telegraph, 47 of the 92 remaining matches are scheduled to be shown on Sky and BT. While some of the rest seem to have already been spoken for by the BBC and Amazon, that still leaves several dozen for potential free-to-air broadcast on YouTube or wherever else.

For the first time in the UK, fans just might be able to watch all Premier League games on television (legally). You know, just how fans in almost all other countries where the Premier League is broadcast can. A little silver lining then in this pandemic.