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Monday, September 20, 1999 Published at 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK


Pubs pirate premier football

It is illegal to watch Saturday games live on TV

By the BBC's Charles Rhodes

It is just before three o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, the credits roll as an American action movie finishes on the big screen in the corner of the bar.

[ image: Pubs steal the pictures from satellites aimed at Scandinavia]
Pubs steal the pictures from satellites aimed at Scandinavia
No one, in the big North London pub pays it any attention. The landlord looks around the bar eyeing his customers carefully before walking over to switch on a radio. Most of the 50 or so drinkers, glance up at the big screen in time to see footballers from Arsenal and Liverpool preparing to kick off that afternoon's big Premier League game.

They're all breaking the law. To promote attendance at games, fans are forbidden by football authorities from watching league football live in Britain on television on Saturday afternoons.

Charles Rhodes: "The football authorities have discovered how difficult it is to control who watches what."
But dozens of pubs and clubs across the country regularly show the matches by stealing the pictures from a satellite aimed at viewers in Scandinavia.

In addition to the 743m Sky and the BBC pay to screen Premier League football in the United Kingdom, top clubs collect millions more from an overseas contract with Canal Plus.

[ image: Fans have to wait for Match of the Day to catch Saturday's action]
Fans have to wait for Match of the Day to catch Saturday's action
The French broadcaster sells three or four live games a week plus highlights packages that can be seen by around 600 million people across the world. The Premier League won't disclose the value of the arrangement that has helped make it the most popular league in the world.

Canal Plus gets access to Sky's live games as well as those on Saturdays covered by the BBC's Match of the Day cameras. From London the action is beamed to satellites and then fed to TV stations around the world.

British viewers with the right equipment can only intercept and unscramble the pictures aimed at Scandinavia because the footprint of the satellite extends over the United Kingdom.

[ image: Pubs openly advertise the live football]
Pubs openly advertise the live football
Despite a Premier League victory in the High Court this summer that made it unlawful to sell or provide the motorised satellite dishes, decoders, smart cards and codes needed to see the Scandinavian broadcasts, fans 'in the know' don't have to wait until Match of Day to catch up on Saturday's top football action.

The Premier League says it aims to crack down hard on dealers who sell equipment designed to broadcast the Scandinavian games. It is also working with brewers to try and stop landlords showing the matches.

But with hundreds of cards available on the black market and new encryption codes unscrambled within hours by hackers and then displayed on the internet, they face a tough task stopping pirates cashing in on what has become an insatiable appetite for football.

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