Spanish Soccer League Backs Channel That Flouted U.K. Match Ban

(Bloomberg) -- Spain’s elite soccer league has rallied behind a streaming channel that defied a decades-old British ban on live Saturday afternoon broadcasts, saying people watch the games on illegal channels and betting websites anyway.

Eleven Sports showed U.K. audiences two live games from Spain’s La Liga during the Saturday blackout that runs from 2:45 to 5:15 p.m., on Sept. 29 and Oct. 6. The rule was introduced in the 1960s after club owners complained that people were deserting football grounds to watch matches on TV instead.

Europe’s soccer governing body UEFA still allows national leagues to impose a broadcast ban on the day that most games are played in each country.

Only England, Scotland and Montenegro still enforce the rule and it is respected by broadcasters in the U.K. including Sky Plc and BT Group Plc, which show the top-flight Premier League to home audiences. The ban also covers broadcasts of matches played in other countries.

Eleven Sports owns the live rights to show Spain’s La Liga and Italy’s Serie A in the U.K.

"We support Eleven Sports in pushing the envelope in making matches available on Saturday afternoons," Joris Evers, La Liga’s chief communications officer, said at a sports business conference in London.

"People are watching football either through piracy or on betting websites anyway," Evers said. "Upholding the ban does not make much sense."

Eleven hopes its live Saturday broadcasts will bring it British viewers who would otherwise watch the Spanish and Italian games via illegal streaming services. "We disagree with the ban and will continue to challenge it with the best interest of our customers at heart," the group said on its Facebook page.

English soccer’s governing body, the Football Association, said it was looking into the breach “through the appropriate channels.” UEFA said it’s in contact with the Football Association, but has not yet received a complaint.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.