The English Football League (EFL) has been accused of ‘deliberately misleading’ clubs after fixtures from English soccer’s lower leagues were opened up to be streamed live domestically on Saturday afternoon.
Non-televised matches from League One and League Two – the third and fourth tiers of the professional game in England – have been streamed online overseas this season, while games that do not take place on Saturday afternoons have been live streamed in the United Kingdom for a pay-per-match fee via the iFollow platform.
A regulation enforced by the Football Association (FA) prohibits matches in England from being live broadcast during 2:45pm and 5:15pm on Saturday afternoons.
The embargo on live coverage was introduced in the 1960s, with club owners fearful that live televised soccer on a Saturday afternoon would affect ticket sales and attendances.
The regulation is part of Uefa statutes but is optional, with only the English, Scottish and Montenegrin associations currently enforcing the rule. The embargo is in place in order to allow clubs to maximise their revenue opportunities.
However, after complaints led by Andy Holt, chairman of League One club Accrington Stanley, it has been explained that the regulation does not apply during international breaks.
This meant that supporters in the United Kingdom and Ireland were able to watch live coverage of Football League action – either on the iFollow service or their respective club-maintained alternatives.
A statement from Accrington declared: ‘Accrington Stanley majority shareholder Andy Holt is angry and dismayed at the Football League’s decision to allow the streaming of 3pm Saturday fixtures to the domestic market during the international break.
‘The EFL is there to represent its 72 member clubs, and Mr Holt feels that Article 48 of the Uefa statutes [which deals with broadcast regulations] was not discussed at the summer conference in Portugal, with no debate taking place regarding any exceptions to the existing blackout on domestic coverage of Saturday afternoon fixtures.’
On Twitter, Holt added: ‘This kills our income and destroys atmosphere. It was only international viewers when we considered it first. Then they added Tuesday night matches.
‘The option to join with five international weekends has never been mentioned by @EFL. They deliberately misled us. They know what they’re doing, don’t worry about that.’
Since the controversy was raised, the EFL has agreed to discuss the loophole in the regulations.
A statement read: ‘The EFL is very aware of the importance of protecting the live matchday experience, and will always champion supporters making their way through turnstiles as the best way to watch live football, but [streaming] is an added option for those fans who can’t make the game in person.
‘The EFL needs to understand the full value of the streaming opportunity to make informed decisions and the matches taking place tomorrow will help determine the future direction of travel … The review will be shared and discussed with clubs.’