Football League clubs are set to meet next Thursday to discuss streaming of matches at 3pm on a Saturday, a hugely divisive debate which could be set to cause as much controversy as the Checkatrade Trophy.
On the face of it, a 3pm streaming service would be good, wouldn’t it? I miss the odd away game every now and again, to be fair it’s been more often than not this season, I’d love to be able to watch them live. Where does that end though? What if some fans choose to miss the odd home game in favour of an iFollow feed? Then, before you know it, football is a TV programme again, not a spectator sport. Grounds are empty and income stunted. Is that what we want?
There is usually a blackout on matches between 2.45pm and 5.15pm on a Saturday, an agreement in place to protect the matchday revenue that is vital to lower league clubs. With the international weekend, that curfew was lifted, with viewers able to pay a £10 fee to watch the game. The very clubs it is trying to protect were the guinea pigs for the first ever legal broadcasting of Saturday afternoon football.
Accrington chairman Andy Holt, a vocal figure fiercely protective of lower league football, wasn’t happy at all. “This kills our income and destroys atmosphere,” Holt said “It was only international viewers when we considered it first. Then they added Tuesday night matches. The option to join with five international weekends has never been mentioned by @EFL. They deliberately misled us. They know what they’re doing, don’t worry about that.”
He’s fearful that readily available Saturday afternoon football will hit attendances, not just at Stanley who struggle as it is, but across the football spectrum. Those fans who support two teams, would they be as likely to turn up and watch Lincoln if Nottingham Forest were on TV? Will Accrington be able to prise people away from live Saturday afternoon football when they’re already battling to get people through the turnstiles?
The EFL responded to Holt’s thoughts, saying: “The EFL is very aware of the importance of protecting the live matchday experience, and will always champion supporters making their way through turnstiles as the best way to watch live football, but [streaming] is an added option for those fans who can’t make the game in person.” So basically, we’ll do what we want if the money is right.
The EFL Trophy has been protested against, vehemently, but this is a bigger threat to our club’s existence than anything. Streaming football on a weekend will give fans an option to stay at home and watch the games on their sofa, which many will choose. I appreciate that for those abroad or exiled elsewhere it is attractive, but they must consider the wider damage. How many fans in Lincoln will pay £10 to stay at home, rather than £18 to get a match ticket?
Where does football go from there? If fans see football as something they can enjoy from home, all the time, what impact will that have not only on attendances, but on atmosphere too? We know what half-empty grounds are like, we experienced it enough 2011-2016, is that what we’re heading back to?
The EFL’s decision to allow the games to be streamed on an international weekend not only set a dangerous precedent, but also again showed the utter contempt they have for the smaller sides. Just because Leeds and Forest weren’t playing, they felt it appropriate to lift the blanket? Why? Does League Two and League One not matter?
Then there’s the Premier League deal. If Manchester United see that EFL clubs can charge pay per view for their games, where does that leave them? How long before they want to negotiate a deal of their own, stopping the flow of money from the top flight? It’s all very dangerous indeed.
I was against a boycott of the Checkatrade because I felt there was better ways to make a statement, ways which wouldn’t hurt the club, but how does one make a stand against this sort of behaviour? How many Lincoln fans would be willing to stand against something that could make life better for such a huge number of people? Fans in New Zealand, Australia, Germany, even London could follow the Imps every kick, if they wanted. Forget games being available immediately after they’ve concluded, this would be blow by blow support as it happened.
If that is you and you’re thinking this is a good idea, please think again. This is the start of the decline, not the Checkatrade Trophy, this. This is where the deterioration of the game we love begins, by making it so freely accessible. This cannot be allowed to happen. It isn’t the only danger being introduced either.
We contacted Liam Scully for comment, who has kindly given us the following statement.
“Lincoln City very much respect the heritage of the sport and overall wish to protect our game from potential over-commercialisation. We did openly enter this initial trial in full knowledge, but also in in good faith as to the objectives of this experiment.”
“We are of the belief that should domestic streaming be allowed within the blackout hours, that there will likely be significant implications not only for EFL clubs, but also for other football clubs in the country.”
“When casting our future vote, we will certainly be aware that we are voting not just as custodians of Lincoln City Football Club but as representatives for football as a whole.”
Next page – another threat to our national game