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Saturday football on TV could be restricted

The English Premier League will restrict European broadcasters to screening only one live game in the 3pm Saturday slot from next season – but has yet to decide if this will apply to Malta.

“This is being done as a disincentive to the illegal use of foreign satellite decoders in the UK to watch matches,” a Premier League spokesman told The Times.

The Premier League has already issued an invitation to tender for the rights to show games in most European jurisdictions from 2013 till 2016.

Rights holders will generally be able to choose one game to screen live at 3pm on Saturday (4pm in Malta) and will also be able show matches at all other times live.

But an invitation to bid for the rights to show games in Malta has not yet been issued and this condition may not apply on the island, a spokesman said.

“We have not yet decided on the package that we will put up for sale in Malta for 2013-2016. Broad-casters in Malta don’t know the conditions yet because nothing has been put up for sale.”

GO Sports’ exclusive three-year deal to screen Premier League games in Malta expires in May, at the end of the 2012/2013 season.

Currently, Maltese football fans can watch all Premier League games live across a multitude of GO Sports channels, whereas UK broadcasters observe a live coverage blackout between 3 and 5pm on Saturdays.

Traditionally, the majority of Premier League games have kicked off at 3pm on Saturdays.

Sunderland and other top-flight clubs have claimed that home attendances have suffered as a result of local pubs screening their games live through the use of cut-price foreign decoders.

From next season, there will be fewer games played at 3pm on Saturdays, according to the Premier League spokesman. Kick-off times will be varied to maximise TV audiences.

If it is applied in Malta, the Saturday restriction will only involve the 3pm slot – all other matches can be screened live.

Contacted yesterday, a spokesman for Melita, which screened live Premier League games until 2010, said: “Clearly, if such restrictions come into effect, they will have a negative impact on local football fans.

“Organisations such as the Premier League are going down this unfortunate route in order to protect their content rights against illegal distribution and sharing practices.”

He added that it was too early to comment on whether Melita would bid for the 2013-2016 Premier League rights “as details and conditions for Maltese operators are still to be confirmed”.

GO said the 3pm Saturday restriction was already applied in some European jurisdictions and it did not expect it to be applied to Malta in the next rights deal.

Another restriction in place from next season will be a ban on most European networks showing games with English commentary.

“Commentary would have to be provided in the indigenous language of the country it is being screened in,” the Premier League spokesman said.

Asked for clarification on whether this would be applied in Malta, which has English as one of its official languages, the spokesman said this had not yet been decided.

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