Live streaming: embrace the change

Cod Almighty | Article

by Alex Gerlis

5 December 2018

If the alternative for many fans is not following the game at all, then clubs like Grimsby have to embrace the opportunities of live streaming, says Alex

I've got a funny feeling about this article, the kind of uneasy, intuitive feeling you get every time Town concede a corner. It’s the sense that people may not be altogether satisfied with the outcome. But with the disregard for one's own welfare that James McKeown is required to show so many times a game, let's give it a go.

I like the live streaming of Town matches on iFollow: in fact, I think it is a good thing.

Let me set out my own circumstances. I've not lived in Grimsby since the late 1970s or had any family in the town since the early 1980s. I’ve lived in London for more than 40 years and I've watched Town play in the south literally hundreds of times over that period. Given the choice, I'd much rather go and watch a game live than watch it on TV or on my PC. I don't need any persuading that live football is better than televised football.

Nor do I think the idea of the crowds flocking (or trickling) through narrow side streets towards the wooden stands is necessarily an over-romanticised view of football. There is nothing that can quite capture the atmosphere of a live match and the anticipation that precedes it. Television does not get anywhere near the emotions of being at a match.

I also realise many people see the live streaming of Football League games as being potentially disruptive to the game, that it could have too negative an impact on a club's main income stream: the gate money. Interestingly, though, for Premier League clubs, TV revenue has overtaken gate receipts as the largest single form of revenue.

Many parts of the entertainment industry have had to come to terms with disruptive threats. The only solution is to embrace these changes and turn them to your advantage

Many parts of the entertainment industry have had to come to terms with what have initially been seen as disruptive and even destructive threats. Music has had to contend with streaming; publishing with e-books; TV and film with the emergence of different platforms. And I know a little bit of what I’m talking about here: I used to work in television and now I write books. I know what it is like to work in industries which have had to adapt. Ultimately, the only solution is to embrace these changes, even if somewhat reluctantly at first, and turn them to your advantage.

What iFollow can do is open the game up to two audiences that would otherwise not go to games. On the one hand there are those people who are physically or geographically unable to do so. Then there are those people whose route into following a team will be through live streaming.

And the experience is not bad at all. Considering it is shot on one camera, the coverage is good. In the half-dozen or so games I've watched the stream has only dropped out on one or two occasions and then for no more than a few seconds. For our game against Tranmere, the stream was near-perfect. The fact that the pictures are accompanied by the BBC local radio commentary adds to the quality of the coverage. Incidentally, it also makes you realise quite how good the commentary of John Tondeur and Alan Buckley is.

I’m aware of all the arguments about how the iFollow streaming service could be having a negative impact on gates. To an extent, that is inevitable. But we don’t know what the figures are. We don’t know how many people are buying their £10 iFollow match tickets and what difference it is making to clubs like Grimsby Town. We don't know – and before condemning iFollow it would be good to know – whether this new revenue stream goes anywhere near compensating for any drop in attendance, or whether it is likely to provide important funds for clubs like ours over and above any shortfall.

All I’ll say before going into hiding is this: for many people watching games on the streaming service, it's not a choice between going to the game or watching on their PC or a mobile device. It's more likely to be a choice between watching their team live or just having to make do with an audio feed or not following the match at all.

Now I’m writing this just 24 hours after watching Town beat Tranmere 5-2, which could well impair my objectivity: frankly I’m so thrilled to see Town win that if someone devised a way of live streaming Town games on the chassis of my car I’d happily lay under it in the rain on our drive, dirty engine oil dripping on me, just so long the evening ends in a Town victory. Compared to that, iFollow is far more luxurious.

Your comments

On the subject of iFollow and the streaming of games, I guess I'm overly biased. Being an exiled Mariner in the US for nearly 20 years, the chance to see Town play is a rarity. There were the odd live TV games screened over here, but for years I've had to "see" the games through the eyes of John Tondeur and his wonderful commentaries on a less than stable internet broadcast.

One of my favourite memories was listening to the cup win over Liverpool in 2001, jumping up from my desk at work screaming "Yeeesss, get in there!!" and promptly getting a written warning from my boss. Another is watching the 2006 play-off semi-final first leg against Lincoln. I had two friends from home visiting and we went to what at the time was one of the best places in New York to watch football matches, a place called Nevada Smiths. We got there at 6.30am and it's where I met my now good friend Graham, a fellow Grimsby exile. We were loud, chanting, and enjoying the game, all four of us in an empty bar! The manager said he'd never seen so many Grimsby fans in one bar before. After the win, we stayed on to watch the FA Cup final and eventually fell out of the place at 2pm.

Anyway, I digress. My point is that exiles, particularly those in other countries, have been starved of coverage of Town for years. This is, as the article by Alex mentioned, a potential gap in the market to be utilized by the club and another revenue stream to be tapped. With the improvements in technology, the club needs to embrace it's development. I've really enjoyed the way this season has overlayed John Tondeur's commentary onto the live match feed. It also highlights how great his commentary has been over the years.

I for one am happy to spend my $140 odd a year to watch the Mariners. UTM and Merry Christmas!

Joel Wheatley

Alex's article also provoked an interesting discussion on Twitter.

It's a point of view. Irregular Diary has already argued the case against live streaming. What do you think?