The EFL’s iFollow service has caught plenty of interest this season with the decision to make games available to stream to domestic fans as well as those overseas.
Last season, of course, we saw international supporters being able to follow their EFL club but, this year, the reach has included those in this country – providing the game is outside the 3pm blackout as per article 48 of the UEFA Statutes concerning televisual broadcasts.
An initiative that looks to bring games to those that cannot attend live, it does seem to be growing in prominence.
Here at Football League World, then, we went to a media briefing this week to take a closer look at the product and sit in on an open Q&A session with EFL CEO Shaun Harvey and various media outlets.
As we got underway, Harvey outlined the iFollow project’s aims with the priorities being that it gives fans who can’t make it to their team’s matches access as well as providing extra revenue for the clubs.
That’s fair enough, too, and you can see that there is an appetite for the service. So far this season, around 11,000 fans have initiated 130,000 streams of which 50,000 have been domestically-based.
For those domestic fans, it’s £10 a game, and Harvey took time to explain the reasons behind the pricing:
“We plumped for £10 having done some research and actually seeing what the market would take. The reality is all this service needs to be paid for and a return needs to be sent to the clubs.
“To a certain extent, it works on the simple principle that if you’re a fan of a particular club and you can watch your club play then that is what you are going to do over and above any other general football match.
“Aston Villa v Preston, for example, was very attractive to Aston Villa and Preston fans but if there was an option of watching a Champions League game and you were just a pure football fan you may choose for the spectacle to watch the other game.
“So actually £10 covers the cost and then 80% of that revenue returns back to the clubs.”
Indeed, 80% goes to the clubs with them set to learn the extent of what they have made at the end of this month.
One aim of the service – to provide a new revenue stream to the clubs – seems to be being ticked then as Harvey reveals, “it is making money.”
The other aim, though, is to increase fan interest and though it appears that the numbers are good in terms of those watching online, some are suggesting that attendances are taking a hit.
In relation to the Times’ recent research into such an impact with them suggesting mid-week attendances are falling in the Championship, though, Harvey says that things are far from conclusive:
“I think the first thing to say is that the Times in trying to do their analysis came up against the same issues that we always do when you’re trying to compare gate receipts or attendances and that is that finding the comparisons are really, really difficult.
“Factors such as who you’re playing, what your current form is, even what the weather’s like are all things that get into whether people choose to attend or not so to actually take a small sub-section and utilise that is only considering part of the issue.
“It’s really difficult to achieve. We recognised right at the outset that one of the things we were conscious about when promoting the domestic streaming and Sky’s red button was what would the impact be on live attendances and that’s the information that we’re putting together.
“Fortunately whilst the Times is using public-sourced information, we have a bit more detail to use.
“There’s any number of different factors we’ll be taking into account when we come to review but we are committed to promoting live attendance at our games and any reduction will be looked at seriously and taken into account as we actually calculate the value of the service to the league as a whole.
“Ultimately what we’re about is protecting live attendances at our games.”
Currently, the service is on a trial period and, as said, there will be a review into all aspects of it come the end of October.
Finding a balance, then, is what the EFL is looking to do with the platform and at the end of this trial period, they should have a clearer picture of where things stand.
The end of the month will see the first figures released and so, with that now just a couple of weeks away, we’ll soon be getting a wider understanding of where iFollow could be heading.
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