Premier League faces fans’ re­volt over TV block on 160 live games

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sports Newspaper Of The Year - By Ben Rumsby SPORT IN­VES­TI­GA­TIONS RE­PORTER

Foot­ball fans will be blocked from watch­ing 160 Premier League games on tele­vi­sion next sea­son – de­spite be­ing cur­rently banned from at­tend­ing matches dur­ing the coro­n­avirus cri­sis.

The Gov­ern­ment and Premier League are fac­ing a ma­jor sup­porter re­volt af­ter it was con­firmed that more than 40 per cent of the 2020-21 matches will not be shown live in the UK.

The pub­li­ca­tion of next sea­son’s fix­tures yes­ter­day in­cluded the an­nounce­ment that more matches than ever would be broad­cast do­mes­ti­cally – 220 – but there was no pro­vi­sion made for the cam­paign start­ing be­hind closed doors or for the prospect of capped at­ten­dances for much of the re­main­der.

The Gov­ern­ment or­dered the Premier League to show ev­ery fix­ture of Pro­ject Restart live af­ter spec­ta­tors were banned from games un­der lock­down, and sup­port­ers’ groups yes­ter­day warned that a re­fusal to main­tain that pol­icy was “a ma­jor, ma­jor prob­lem” and would drive some to il­le­gal streams.

The po­ten­tial lack of ac­cess to more than two-fifths of games was raised dur­ing a meet­ing be­tween the Premier League and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Foot­ball Sup­port­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion (FSA) on Wed­nes­day. Among those in at­ten­dance was Katrina Law, head of the Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur Sup­port­ers’ Trust, who has also served on the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion coun­cil.

The trust’s co-chair said: “Fans are ex­pect­ing – prob­a­bly quite

rightly – the same broad­cast cov­er­age that we had through Pro­ject Restart.

“I don’t think the penny has dropped. And I think that is go­ing to be a ma­jor, ma­jor prob­lem.

“Match-go­ing fans are ab­so­lutely go­ing to ex­pect fair broad­cast ac­cess to games that they’re pre­vented from at­tend­ing for pub­lic health and safety rea­sons.”

Fans of English Foot­ball League clubs have been able to stream their teams’ matches live for the past three sea­sons and Law said: “It would only be match-go­ing fans in the Premier League in the UK who would be de­prived of watch­ing their team. Un­less, of course, the

Premier League and the broad­cast­ers want to en­cour­age us all to stream il­le­gally.”

Law said she did not know who was “block­ing” the trans­mis­sion of all be­hind-closed-doors games.

“I would have thought the de­ci­sion came down to the broad­cast­ers, but I’m sure the fi­nal de­ci­sion would come down to money,” she said.

A third of matches un­der Pro­ject Restart were shown free to air but Law said a sub­stan­tial num­ber of fans would be pre­pared to pay an “ac­ces­si­ble amount” to watch ad­di­tional games next sea­son.

Her sen­ti­ments were echoed by Dave Pen­ning­ton, vice-chair of the Manch­ester United Sup­port­ers

Trust who, like Law, is also an FSA na­tional coun­cil rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

Pen­ning­ton said the Premier League should also con­sider guar­an­tee­ing sea­son-ticket hold­ers ac­cess to live cov­er­age of their teams’ games un­til sta­di­ums were back to full ca­pac­ity, adding that to do oth­er­wise would be a dou­ble-whammy for those un­able to at­tend be­cause of capped at­ten­dances.

Law said: “We’d just ask that the broad­cast­ers, the Premier League and the clubs all got round the ta­ble and dis­cussed this in the best in­ter­ests of fans who are all of their cus­tomers and con­sumers. It’ll be very short-sighted for them not to al­low fans to watch their teams.”

The Premier League de­clined to com­ment beyond a state­ment in yes­ter­day’s fix­tures an­nounce­ment that it was “com­mit­ted to get­ting fans back into full sta­dia as soon as pos­si­ble”.

Those fix­tures have Liverpool host­ing Leeds United on the open­ing day of the sea­son on Sept 12.

Manch­ester United and Manch­ester City will kick off the fol­low­ing week­end at home to Crys­tal Palace and away at Wolver­hamp­ton Wan­der­ers, re­spec­tively, in a de­layed start be­cause of their Euro­pean ex­ploits, while Chelsea and Wolves will each be­gin their sea­son on Mon­day, Sept 14 at Brighton & Hove Albion and Sh­effield United re­spec­tively, af­ter their Eu­ropa League run.

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