The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a rather unprecedented situation all around the world, including in the (increasingly permeable) bubble of sports. In England, it caused the suspension of professional football for the first time in history without a World War also occurring, for example. In a less dramatic aspect, it also caused all games to be broadcast on television in the UK, for the first time ever.
That sort of coverage of the Premier League may be the norm in many, if not most parts of the world these days, but in the UK, the league’s still operating under laws introduced in the 1980s, when it was believed that keeping football off television at 3pm on Saturdays would ensure that the public would go and watch games (especially lower league games) in person instead.
That questionable logic (see also: NFL blackout rules) ruled the airwaves for almost four decades, even as English football became a many billion pound business far less reliant on matchday income. But COVID kept people away from stadiums, even as play resumed, and while fans are slowly starting to return in some parts of the world, full capacities are unlikely for many more months in England.
When the new schedule came out for the 2020-21 season, the Premier League had reverted back to their usual broadcast rules, which would see only 220 of the 380 total games televised (less than 60 per cent). This caused some consternation among fans, and understandably so.
Maintaining the blackout while games are going on behind closed doors would be "disastrous" according to the FSA's Premier League network reps: https://t.co/tdda8Tq4SC— The FSA (@WeAreTheFSA) August 27, 2020
Fortunately, The FA have seen the light of common sense, and as per a report in The Times, they have lifted the restrictions once again, at least until stadiums remain empty or just partially open. That alone won’t force the Premier League and their true masters, Sky and BT, to act, but it was an obstacle that needed to be removed first in order to act in the first place.
The report claims that broadcasters are already planning on this — though unclear if they’d be free-to-air as a third were during Project Restart — and that the league will be meeting soon to discuss it as well.
The lower leagues have already agreed to similar provisions, so surely it’s something that the Premier League will allow as well.