English Football Dodges An OTT Bullet From La Liga, But Just For Now

English football just dodged a bullet -- and I'm not talking about the uproar that would have occurred if Wembley Stadium had been sold off. That deal was scuppered this week when the relevant FA committee registered opposition and the bidder withdrew.

No, we're on Eleven Sports here. It's the first major OTT challenger to Sky and BT Sports, and because of its scheduling, the FA. It is owned by the owner of Leeds United, and this is probably the reason it has backed away from its current plans to show Spanish and Italian games on a Saturday afternoon.

What's so controversial about that, you may ask?

Well, for the past sixty or so years a rule has been in place in England and Scotland that no live games are allowed to be broadcast while games kicking off at the traditional 3pm slot are underway. I have talked to the FA's CEO about this and it's a well-intentioned rule.

If there are no games on at 3pm, people will hopefully go to their local ground and watch a game or they will carry on playing for their nearby team. If games are broadcast, attendances and participation will suffer.

So let's be clear -- this is a rule from the 1950s devoted to protecting the national game, it's not some clause dreamt up by a lawyer to carve up different kickoff slots for multiple rights deals. It's a rule made with the very best of intentions.

The trouble is that it is totally unenforceable. Nobody could have seen sixty years ago that people would pay a fortune to tune in to live football games dotted across the weekend's schedule, and it wouldn't have occurred to them to that people would also pay to follow Spanish and Italian football.

All that has changed. Over the past decade or so I have seen at football training and at weekend games that young children are as likely to have a Barcelona or Real Madrid shirt as they are a Liverpool or Manchester United kit. Tastes have changed and horizons have broadened.

Fifty years ago, nobody could have dreamed that we would one day be able to watch television that doesn't get beamed through the air to an antenna, but rather travels over phones lines on the internet.

Now that day is here, where does a rule like the FA's stand? It obviously has absolutely no right to tell an OTT broadcaster which foreign rights it can exercise in the UK and at what times. That is purely down to Eleven Sports and the Italian and Spanish leagues who sell the rights. They don't have a 3pm protected time zone, and so there is no possibility of a quid pro quo arrangement where we respect one another's rules.

The FA and The Premier League can insist that English games aren't shown in England, and the SFA can do the same for Scotland. However, they don't have a leg to stand on, and absolutely no leverage on an OTT provider beaming Spanish and Italian games onto laptops, iPads and Chromecasts plugged into televisions -- apparently Eleven Sports is still in talks with Amazon to get an app on its Firestick, as well as to get on the channel list on Sky and BT TV.

The real beneficiary here is the EFL, which represents the other three professional leagues below the Premier League. It is these games where it is feared that attendance would drop if games are shown live at 3pm.

However, they have been served a warning, and all concerned are very lucky that the owner of Eleven Sports owns one of those EFL teams -- Leeds United. They are very lucky, because a rule made in the '50s just is no longer fit for purpose now that a company can beam compelling big games from Europe onto our screens without the FA, Premier League, EFL or Sky being involved. 

An OTT bullet has been dodged -- by lucky coincidence, and just for now.

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