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The 3pm Saturday TV ban – essential for football or antiquated thinking?

We’ve had loads of letters in from fans who are unable to get to the SOL bemoaning the Saturday 3pm broadcast ban, and Ronaldo’s comeback has brought the debate to a wider audience. So, what do our panel think?

Photo by Tom Shaw/Getty Images

Phil West says...

Personally, I believe that the 3pm blackout should be lifted and that fans who can’t get to the games should be able to make use of the SAFCSee service that we were all reliant on last season. Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to UK shores might be the catalyst for this debate, but regarding Sunderland, I think preventing people from streaming matches live is a real negative.

If you cast your mind back to the early days of Kyril-Louis Dreyfus’ time at the helm of our club, one of the first improvements came in the shape of the streaming service, which went from a single camera to a multi-camera setup, and giving us all a much better experience when viewing matches. During last season, it was as good a solution as possible, and it did enable us all to keep tabs on the club’s fortunes, even if the stadium was completely empty.

I do believe that the blackout has, and will continue to have, the consequence of damaging the link between the club and vast swathes of its fan base. If you’re unable to attend the game, it’s important for you to still feel part of the matchday experience, and our in-house streaming service certainly ticked that box. It was quite reasonably priced, and with radio broadcasts of Sunderland matches often playing second fiddle to Newcastle games on BBC radio, it was a very reliable service as well.

The reality is that we are still very much in the Covid era, and for fans of clubs around the country, attending matches is still an area of concern. If you’re an elderly fan, who is unable to attend matches as regularly as you’d like to, or if you’ve suffered from ill health and are unsure about setting foot back into the stadium, being able to watch games from the comfort of your own home would surely keep your spirits up.

I really do hope that sense will be seen on this, and that the blackout will be lifted. Fans, as we know more than ever, are the heart of the game, and they should never ever be treated as commodities ever again.

Sunderland v Northampton Town - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light
The multi camera stream was introduced when KLD came in. The stream reverted to a single camera from the start of this season
Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

Joseph Tulip says...

I’m a purist and I believe there’s nothing like a full programme of fixtures at 3pm on a Saturday, it’s as traditional as fish and chips or a halftime pie.

However, we now live in a different world and over the past two decades, fixtures have increasingly been moved around the weekly calendar to meet TV schedule demands.

The blackout was introduced to try and ensure attendances for 3pm Saturday games were not adversely affected, but I haven’t seen any evidence of televised/live streamed games at other times hit by low crowd numbers.

Even after being restricted to streaming only during the pandemic, the hunger is clearly there among fans who are able, to attend in their droves.

I would be in favour of lifting the blackout. Many people have genuine reasons for not being able to attend a game, while some have good reason to be cautious as we continue to live through Covid times.

For those who can attend the SoL, and fair play to our 30,000 committed fans who turn out in League One, there is nothing like the real thing. But for those who can’t attend due to age, illness, working away, mobility problems or other, lift the blackout and give our fans the opportunity to watch the Lads.

My Dad watched every game online last season, home and away, until his death in early May aged 85. Yes, it was due to the pandemic but had the stadium been open, he probably wouldn’t have been fit enough to attend.

Given the era in which we now live, with fixtures scattered around the week, it’s time to have a go at lifting this blackout.

Sunderland v Doncaster Rovers - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light
Games were broadcast live last season as crowds couldn’t attend due to Covid
Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

Kelvin Beattie says...

I am in favour of lifting the blackout. I would favour a trial period to see what effect this might have on attendances. My hunch is not much, however, a considered look at this might be advised. The benefits are of course to all those who for a variety of reasons cannot get to games. I would be interested to know what the club makes off live stream games, as this may be alternative welcome revenue?

As a season card holder and genuine lover of attending games in the flesh, I am sure there are many like me who will continue to attend irrespective of streaming.

Joseph’s story regarding his Dad will be echoed by many, so come on, let's have a trial period, lift the blackout and consider the benefits and cost.

Oxford United v Sunderland AFC - Carabao Cup Round of 16
Would live coverage of all games bring a strong additional revenue stream?
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Gary Engel says...

As someone who moved away from Sunderland a few years back, I for one, am not in a position to see Sunderland at home on a regular basis. I try to get to away matches, but if I was able to stream the matches from the Stadium as we did last season that would be an added revenue stream for the club.

I know this subject has come up in somewhat different circumstances when Sir Niall was the face of the club... we appreciate how difficult it is economically for the fans to absolutely pack the Stadium as we did in the first few years at the new ground. But there could be a policy whereby supporters can register to watch live 3pm games on a Saturday (those who can’t attend the games due to age, illness or distance).

I am all for tradition, but it still makes no logical sense when half the world can watch live English football on television, but fans in England must have a match day ticket because it is a 3pm kick-off. We don’t watch all of our football highlights the same way we did 20 years ago, but that hasn’t affected the money brought into the game - quite the reverse.

Sunderland v Wigan Athletic - Premier League
Quinny went to war with the local pubs showing the games
Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Martin Wanless says...

I actually think the ban on live TV broadcasts on Saturday afternoon should remain. There’s been a lot of reaction from clubs down the ladder – particularly from the chairman of Saturday’s opponents Accrington – saying that lifting the ban would seriously affect clubs due to the decrease in revenue that would occur.

I think this has complete validity, and while the opportunity to watch a Premier League game live on a Saturday afternoon wouldn’t stop the ‘hardcore’ going, it would in all likelihood trim a bit off attendances.

However, if you put the matter of broadcasting live games on TV to one side, to my mind there’s an easy solution for all Football League clubs to enable those fans who aren’t able to attend games for whatever reason: a season card that gives access both in-person and online.

Don’t sell matches individually, sell them by the season. Sell season cards that allow access online, at the same price as the cheapest season card at the SOL. Have a mechanism whereby if people can go to the game in person they can exchange their ‘digital pass’ for a real ticket.

Football’s got to move with the times. There’s a whole host of people who love – in our case – SAFC, who can’t go to the game for geographical or health reasons. Why should they be denied the right to watch their club? Football’s about far more than the supporters who are fortunate enough to be able to attend games.

Surely, a digital season card is a solution that would benefit everyone, and have minimal impact on other clubs down the pyramid.

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