EFL chief insists live midweek Sky Sports streaming will benefit, rather than hurt, Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday

English Football League boss Shaun Harvey has said it is too early to tell if streaming midweek Championship games is hurting gate receipts but it will be closely monitored.

Thursday, 18th October 2018, 15:18 pm
Updated Friday, 19th October 2018, 03:02 am
English Football League boss Shaun Harvey has said it is too early to tell if streaming midweek Championship games is hurting gate receipts but it will be closely monitored.

Harvey, however, told reporters in London that streaming games live, domestically and internationally, is making money for the clubs, not taking it away.

He was speaking on the day The Times reported a fall in Championship attendances for the midweek fixtures Sky Sports has started to broadcast via its red button service.

According to the newspaper, midweek Championship games last season had gates that were typically 4.5 per cent smaller than weekend games, but so far this season the gap has grown to 8.8 per cent.

The EFL has always said it would assess the impact Sky's and its own iFollow streaming service were having on gates as part of a trial it is running until the end of October.

"Comparing attendances from year to year is really difficult. There are lots of factors that go into it - who you are playing, current form, what the weather is like and so on," said Harvey.

"Right from the outset, we've been really conscious of what impact domestic streaming might have.

"But The Times has used public-source information, whereas we know the number of away fans who have travelled and whether they are season-ticket holders or not, so there are a number of factors at play.

"But any reduction will be looked at seriously and taken into account as we look to the future."

Sky's midweek offer - a basic, one-camera feed - is part of the EFL's renegotiated five-year deal with the pay-TV company, worth £120million a year from next season. That is a significant increase on the current £88milllion-a-year deal and Harvey said the red-button offer was key to gaining that extra revenue.

The league's own streaming service, iFollow, was launched for overseas fans last season and is now available for UK-based supporters, too.

In total 58 of the 72 clubs have signed up for the service, which is run by the EFL but sold via each club's website. Most of the league's biggest clubs, however, have their own streaming offer, while Accrington, Charlton and Forest Green have opted out of streaming altogether for the time being.

International customers can watch all of their club's games for the equivalent of £110 per season or £5 per match, while domestic customers can get an audio-only season pass for £45 or live video for £10 a match. The latter is a four-camera feed, with commentary and replays.

UK-based fans, however, cannot stream games during the traditional 2.45pm-5.15pm Saturday blackout, although an exception was made during the recent international windows, as the relevant UEFA rule, article 48, did not apply.

This rule, though, is being tested by another streaming service, Eleven Sports, which has been showing La Liga games in the UK on Saturday afternoons.

Harvey said the EFL remained strongly committed to the blackout and, later on Wednesday, Eleven announced it was shelving plans for more blackout-busting broadcasts because of "intense pressure from stakeholders within the football establishment".

But the EFL has also been criticised for its moves in the streaming market, with some saying it will dissuade fans from going to games and others suggesting £10 is too much for an EFL game.

"We've gone for £10 because we did some research to see what the market will take and because the service has to be paid for," said Harvey.

"But it's based on a simple premise: if you are a fan and you can go to the game, you'll go, but if you can't, this is an option. We know the vast majority of fans are watching iFollow more than 25 miles away from the stadium, so it's an additional audience.

"We're not rushing to change the price, we think it's about right, but we will review it. We think we are taking the boundaries of the stadium into people's front rooms."

So far this season, iFollow has provided 130,000 live streams, 80,000 of them to an overseas customer-base that numbers 11,000.

The most popular game was September's East Anglia derby between Ipswich and Norwich, which was moved to a Sunday and attracted 2,500 UK-based fans and 600 overseas. Overall, games have been streamed to 165 countries and every game has had an audience.

Asked how much it is making, Harvey said he could not share those figures yet as the club themselves will not be told until next month.

"But yes, it is making money and if it continues like this until the end of the season it will be profitable."