The Thundercliffe Files: Football is not a television programme

Cod Almighty | Article

by Paul Thundercliffe

23 August 2019

i-Follow is great for Town fans who live outside the UK. But could it kill the very thing they love?

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Back in the day, the sight of Town on the telly was a rare one. With not all matches covered, you would get the odd Match of the Day or Big Match appearance, and its been great that some of these have been unearthed recently. Football on ITV was regionalised meaning a Sunday lunchtime roundup of local sides.

I used to worship Goals on Sunday and became quite adept at unpausing the video recorder at just the right time to get the goals from Maidstone. Extended highlights were a treat. The big cup matches against Villa and Spurs had multiple angles and were rewatched many times.

There is still no better way to witness a goal than to be there, as the Lower Findus embracing Green's rocket the other night will testify

The only way to be guaranteed to see the goals back then was to be there. And there still is no better way to witness a goal, as the Lower Findus will testify embracing Green’s rocket the other night. Football is not a television programme.

These days, of course, football pretty much dominates TV schedules, with competitions played on Thursdays just to ensure seven-day saturation. The monies involved are frankly scandalous, particularly as the fees are not shared out amongst all 92 clubs as they used to be.

To help out, the Premier League, the Football League have helpfully tested the streaming of matches to see if it works, both from a technology perspective, and to generate money. iFollow allows subscribers abroad to watch games for a set fee, either per game or season. That’s OK actually. The Saturday afternoon blackout in England protects attendance, and exiles can see games.

Last season, the Football League widened iFollow coverage to midweek games, so that everyone, no matter the country they lived in, could watch a Tuesday night match for £10. This is at least half of an average match ticket to lower league football and has had an impact on midweek attendances, although this is muddied by the fact that midweek fixtures deliberately place teams the furthest from home against each other.

They also last season sneakily allowed UK viewing of games during international breaks, overriding any blackout rules. This was done, apparently, without any consideration to the clubs.

It must be said that Town get 80 per cent of all revenues for their subscriptions, whether home or away, but the maths really has to add up to make it worthwhile. If the gate was lower by 500 because it was on iFollow that is around £10,000 of lost revenue, meaning 1250 subscriptions are needed to make up that cost. The Football League have been coy about viewing figures. Factor in that some individual subscriptions will have more than one viewer and it doesn't add up.

It’s the thin end of the wedge. Most people who watch iFollow do so through a VPN and at a cheaper rate. I think its great for Town fans in other countries but if I am not at a match, the radio and Twitter allow me some access to how many headers James Hanson has won.

Attending a live football match is an important part of a community’s identity and slowly and surely this is being eroded, not least by the infiltration of television in pursuit of more revenue. It is, however, a very good example of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

There will come a point in the not too distant future when all games will be available to all fans on some kind of streaming subscription service. Football will be a television programme.

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