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You Won’t Be Able to Watch Ronaldo’s Debut in the UK without a VPN: Here’s Why

Jeff Kotuby

Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Manchester United last month was one of the biggest sports stories in the world, and now he’s finally ready to make his re-debut with the club. There’s just one problem — nobody in Manchester, or all of England for that matter, will be able to legally watch it live, thanks to an outdated blackout rule that was implemented back in the 1960s.

Within the UEFA rulebook, there exists, “Article 48,” which dictates that there must be a period where no live soccer can be shown on television on either a Saturday or Sunday. For England, this time happens to fall between 2:45 PM and 5:15 PM. The idea is that, if the games aren’t shown on television, that consumers would be more likely to attend the games and, of course, give their hard-earned cash to the clubs at the gate. This is especially true for weekend contests that see larger attendances than their weekday counterparts.

So, because Manchester United plays Newcastle this Saturday at 3 PM local time, the match falls under the blackout time and cannot be shown on British television. An entire country will miss a pivotal moment in sports because of broadcasting rules that were established decades ago.

Luckily for US soccer fans, they’ll be able to watch Ronaldo’s homecoming live on USA Network at 10 AM ET, which is available with a 7-Day Free Trial of fuboTV, Sling TV, Hulu Live TV, DIRECTV STREAM, and YouTube TV.

English footie fans won’t be so lucky this time, but the feedback from this situation could be the catalyst for real change as it pertains to broadcasting European football. At least they can always listen to the match on Radio 5, or attempt to use a VPN.

While most broadcasting companies would like to see the ban lifted, there’s not much support within soccer nor UEFA to lift the ban.

“Lifting the blackout would have been opening ‘Pandora’s Box’. We ended up changing the policy to give clubs the option,” former EFL chief executive Shaun Harvey said to The Athletic, citing a situation where he suggested teams schedule games at different times to circumvent the blackout. “The vast majority didn’t take it up, which I respect as their choice.”

According to Harvey, there is a clause within Article 48 that requires 50 percent of England’s top two divisions to kick off at 3 PM for it to activate. Should the clubs agree to stagger times, the ban could be lifted — but apparently, nobody wanted to see for themselves as to keep the status quo going and not find out if increased TV broadcasts negatively affected gate revenue.

Thus, many UK soccer fans will have to turn to piracy in order to watch Ronaldo’s homecoming live. While all parties involved are fearful of piracy, the truth is that if the match was easier to find legally, consumers wouldn’t have to turn to piracy at all. We’ve discussed piracy in the past as something that arises out of necessity, not choice. Most individuals would likely avoid piracy if the legal route was accessible and affordable. An Ampere study backed this claim, concluding that, “as more people have access to content legally online and on an affordable basis, their use of piracy websites decrease.”

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