09/14/2021 at 6:30 AM CEST
Manchester United had been managing queues every morning for a week in a row near their official store at Old Trafford. The club, in fact, was in charge of feeding this expectation by publishing, every day of the previous week, unpublished photos, or new declarations of love towards the first fans that saw CR7 become a legend. Nevertheless, Cristiano Ronaldo’s redebut in the Premier League it was not seen live on any English television. Neither open nor paying. Not at home, not at the bar. It just wasn’t aired.
What at first glance could draw nonsense in terms of marketing is part of a plan as consensual as it is essential to understand the success of the Premier. Manchester United-Newcastle was played in the time slot of the ‘blackout’, or what is the same, the blackout: By law, protected by FIFA, England prohibits live broadcasting of any football match that takes place between 3 and 5 pm on Saturday afternoon, local time.
The reason for this English appeal is clear: to protect the attendance of fans at stadiums. Not only in the Premier League, but even in the amateur categories of the country. There is no country in Europe with such a socially established schedule for football matches. Every Saturday, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, they go to watch football. Be it Premier, or 6th division. All matches start at the same time.
If the blackout were to be lifted, would a Southampton fan, say, prefer to go to the stadium to cheer on their own or would they choose to see Cristiano return at home? Or even more. In Stockport, a town adjacent to Manchester where many fans support City or United, beyond their Stockport County: Who would go to Edgeley Park to see their fifth division team if at home they can see a Leicester-Manchester City?
The answer to all these questions, in reality, nobody knows. It is true that in the identity of the English fan there is a component of loyalty and proximity to the incomparable community. But in the long run, there are many doubts that that would hold up without the blackout. In other words: experts believe that, without the ‘blackout’, the pyramid of English football is in danger.
Not so much for Manchester United, or Liverpool, or Chelsea, but for the clubs that, from their modesty, depend on their box office income to survive. The compensation that a fourth division club can suppose to receive a payment from a television network to broadcast their games is not even close, by market price, to what they receive by filling their stadium every two weeks.
If today the Premier League is the best League in the world, it is because it fills its stadiums with fans thirsty to shout for their team. It is because this, sometimes, influences the game more than a 50 million transfer. And it is because that identity is maintained at all levels. That is why people want to see them.
In the preview of the day, Marcelo Bielsa defined the ‘blackout’ as a “magnificent decision & rdquor ;, since“ it prioritizes the game ahead of commercial income or business interests & rdquor ;. And he is right, although everything is closer than it seems. Cristiano’s blackout is, in part, what illuminates the Premier.