The English Premier League likes to market itself as the best soccer league in the world. It is a good claim, given that the league boasts household names such as Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal—and additionally the new kids on the block, Chelsea and Manchester City.
Despite fears over rising season ticket costs and the proliferation of websites streaming live matches, stadia in England are generally full. The supporters provide a raucous backdrop to the blood and thunder spectacle taking place before them on the pitch.
It is an anomaly then that while games are being beamed across the world—in a blockbusting TV rights deal that between 2013-2016 will have earned the Premier League almost $8bn— British-based soccer fans endure matchday blackouts.
3pm on a Saturday afternoon is the traditional kick-off time for soccer matches in England—a throwback to the early days of the sport. The “half-day holiday” would be enjoyed by workers on a Saturday afternoon and they would pour into the local ground to let off steam at the soccer match.
With the advent of live televised soccer matches In the 1960s, some English Football League chairmen were concerned that supporters would prefer to watch the match on TV, rather than pay to see the game live. Therefore, the 3pm blackout was born, meaning that between 2.45pm and 5.15pm on a Saturday, no match could be shown live on TV.
Sunday afternoon became the chosen time for televised matches for a long time but we are now at the stage where two British-based TV companies matches across the weekend at times staggered to avoid the 3pm blackout.
There is no evidence that attendances at live matches would actually be affected in any way but the tradition still shapes the matchday experience for millions who flock each weekend to watch their heroes play. Ticket availability to sample the atmosphere can be found for example here.
No such restrictions have been in place in La Liga—the league which is probably best placed to battle the Premier League for position of top dog. Where the Premier League has touted the possibility of a “39th game” regular season fixture to be played outside of England for marketing purposes, La Liga is proposing a round-robin group tournament going on tour.
Matches have also been arranged in Spain so that each one can be televised separately. The biggest hitters such as Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla are also each contracted to feature in a primetime slot for an Asian TV audience a set number of times per month—meaning some matches kick off locally at 11pm.
And still, with all these changes and the constant desire of the top leagues to attract all corners of the globe to their product, soccer fans in England love their 3pm kick-off tradition.