Eleven Sports, the OTT sports broadcaster, has confirmed it will abandon its controversial decision to stream La Liga football matches on Saturday afternoons during the traditional UK blackout period for live football. However, the company signalled it is ready to challenge the decades old ruling, and pointed to the fact that the blackout would seem to encourage piracy.
In a statement, Eleven Sports said: “Out of respect for the wishes of our partners, we will for the time being no longer show matches during the Saturday afternoon blackout period. Fans in the UK should have the freedom and the choice to watch these games legally through the official rights holder, as they do all over the world. Regrettably, intense pressure from stakeholders within the football establishment means that football fans across the country do not have this option.”
“The blackout is one of the biggest generators of piracy in the UK. These games are very easily accessed on illegal sites online and it is naive to think that fans do not watch them because they are not shown on legitimate platforms, except betting sites. It is irresponsible to leave the market in the hands of criminals.”
“We maintain our strong view that the rule is unfit for the modern, digital era – particularly for overseas games which we hold the rights to,” Eleven Sports continued. “With the best interests of football fans at heart, we are currently considering all legal and regulatory options, including the referral of the case to the appropriate authorities.”
La Liga themselves continued to support Eleven’s stance on the blackout. “We continue to believe that the blackout is outdated. Eleven Sports is taking the right steps to challenge the blackout and we support them.”
However, the chief executive of the EFL, Shaun Harvey, said the blackout remained essential to the UK game.
“The origins of Article 48 were to protect the interests of the game in this country as a whole, you can’t be half in or half out. The 3pm protection when Premier League and Football League games are being played is absolutely vital,” he said in response.