Liam Scully addresses fan’s Sky / iFollow concerns

Credit Graham Burrell

The Imps have featured on Sky TV three times this season, earning £50,000.

Our 1-1 draw with Peterborough drew plenty of viewers and earned the club £30,000. Away from home against Gillingham, City got £10,000 and obviously three points. Let’s hope for the same next Tuesday – three points and 12000 additional viewers on iFollow which would earn us £9996. Finally, we come to our semi-final exit against Sunderland, another £10k and more exposure.

The one issue we do have when we’re on Sky is the lack of access. For away matches, there are no iFollow passes, which means turning to Now TV if you do not have Sky. Whilst that is all well and good for many, some have problems. I struggled with Now TV as it seems to need even more internet power than iFollow, and with my 1990s internet, that is a problem. Others, such as our valued overseas fans, might not even be able to watch at all.

Some could watch, others struggled – Credit Graham Burrell

That has drawn criticism at times, which CEO Liam Scully addressed recently on the Vital Lincoln City forum. After discussing the situation last night in our Supporter’s Board meeting, he has provided the post he put on Vitals for general publication, to hopefully help fans understand the intricacies of Sky TV, iFollow and viewing rights ahead of our upcoming clash with Oxford United, also on Sky.

I will start by saying how serious we take your concerns and by acknowledging the disruption Sky games cause to domestic and international fans.

I will also apologise as there is no short way to explain this matter’s complexities; however, I recognise I owe you an explanation based on comments and frustration outlined in this thread.

The process for a TV selection varies, but generally, I would receive an email from the EFL and Sky noting our game has been provisionally selected for TV coverage. On receipt, I am expected to provide any comments within 24/48 hours.

In regular circumstances, our comments may be any policing or staffing concerns, fixture clashes with local events (i.e. Christmas market) or even shortened period between games. Broadly speaking, it is a consultative process.

The comments are correct in noting the direct commerciality to the club. Sky’s commitment to the EFL does make up a significant proportion of our core funding, which all clubs receive as an equal share based on our divisional status. Crude maths being 80% goes to the Championship, 12% to LG1 with 8% LG2.

Also, for LG1 TV games, the home club receives a £30k’ facility fee’, with the away club receiving £10k. I did see a comment which suggested LG1 clubs pool their TV money, and no additional payment is received. This was correct for a short period (2017-18 season from memory) after LG1 clubs collectively voted for this approach; however, we have now reverted to a core payment + facility fee model as described above.

The eyes of the world turned to Sincil Bank – Credit Graham Burrell

So why would Lincoln City agree to a TV game, given the disruption it causes fans?

For the Oxford game, which may or may not go ahead anyway due to possible international call ups, we will likely be commercially neutral with the £10k payment netting off iFollow revenue loss. However, the other benefits, both tangible and intangible, are multiple.

Firstly, TV games provide the club with a national and international profile, which is invaluable as part of our ongoing attempts to attract like-minded investment into the club.

Secondly, our sponsors’ benefit is significant, with TV games providing more exposure in 15 live minutes than a whole season of highlights on Quest, SSN, and other digital platforms. We do bat above average for attracting national partners – the likes of Pappa Johns and historically Utilita have been great backers of the club. Ultimately these companies have a budget to put into clubs across the whole of the EFL (and possibly other sports), with their marketing managers hedging their bets based on historical and future TV performance. What also should be factored in is the profile TV games provide our local partners – who on the whole sponsor Lincoln City for their love of the club. A single TV game allows us to ‘pay back’ local sponsors for their support, with something that could actually stand up to scrutiny if measured based purely by return on investment.

Disappointing night, disappointing coverage – Credit Graham Burrell

The final element is that we know live home games generate the “most significant spike in impressions to Visit Lincoln and other Lincolnshire destination websites”, as qualified by an economic impact report carried out by the University of Lincoln. In short, Lincoln City being on TV is a proven benefit to our City/County economy. This is all part of the consideration of many local political decisions. An example would be support from (say) the Local Enterprise Partnership when looking to attract funding for the Stacey West development. (To be clear, this is for illustration only)

Is all of the above worth the disruption to the fans without thought? The short answer is no.

When offered a TV game, we review all considerations and aim to come to a sensible football and sensible business decision. To give this context, of course, you know about all the times we agree to be on Sky, but what about the game that is offered, considered and rejected that you never get to know about?

As to the disruption to international fans, in particular when it comes to iFollow restrictions. This is a little more complex due to the intricacies of the multi-layered broadcasting contacts.

I will try and simplify by saying Sky holds the UK’s rights, with many other broadcasters having direct rights for their market, albeit often a copycat feed from Sky’s production team.

At the time of live TV selection, we cannot confirm if a game will be picked up by any of the XX international rights holders. Sky is mandated by a pledge to fans regarding fairness and notice periods; however, this is not as rigorous as we leave the UK market.

Dealing with international TV rights is out of our hands. By the terms of the iFollow contract (which has to be subservient to the broadcasters contact – that is just the hierarchy of how it works), the broadcaster automatically triggers a clause which means the game is no longer available on iFollow. This usually is no huge drama, as long as the local partner (say Viacom in India) commits to showing the game. However, what can often happen is the local broadcaster decides there are other more prominent events for that marketplace (i.e. a 2nd division cricket fixture in India), which means not only have they triggered an iFollow blackout, but they also do not show the game.

Up next on Sky, Oxford United – Credit Graham Burrell

The best-case scenario is the local partner recognises this and releases the iFollow blackout. However, I understand that this often doesn’t even register on the producer’s radar, meaning they wave the broadcast rights, but double whammy – the blackout remains.

For Lincoln City, we do not have direct dialogue with the international broadcasters, so there is no way to evaluate the overall disruption. Truthfully, this is a leap of faith and often more down to other local events than the profile of our chosen fixture.

As you can see, this is rather complex, somewhat out of our hands, but in no way do we ever act in a blasé fashion, and 100% we always do our best to consider any disruption Vs overall benefit to the club. I respect and understand that I will make an unpopular decision based on impact on personal circumstances; however, I give you my absolute assurance that a decision is never made without evaluating the wider impact and what is overall best for Lincoln City Football Club.

If I can close on a positive, in sharing that the LCFC Vs Peterborough fixture was watched live by a total UK audience of c400,000. I am told the LG1 range usually is 150,000-250,000. Of course, we have to respect our opponents’ role in these outstanding figures; however, this was somewhat repeated for the Gillingham fixture, with another above-average performance of total viewing figures.

I do hope the above does go somewhat to explain our thinking, even if you disagree with any conclusions that we arrive at.

Thank you for your ongoing support.

Liam Scully.