Evidence shows new Football League TV deal is driving the fans away

On screen: More games are now being shown 'live.'
On screen: More games are now being shown 'live.'
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A LEADING football finance expert has warned that the controversial live streaming of Football League matches will increase the pressure on many lower-ranked clubs with midweek attendances continuing to fall alarmingly.

All ‘non-live’ midweek Championship games are now available to watch on the red button on Sky Sports, with the arrival of the EFL’s iFollow digital subscription service alongside clubs’ own television streams meaning that all League One and League Two fixtures can also be viewed.

When they start seeing significant drops in attendance, even if it is only over four or five games a season, it adds up to a significant amount of finance as far as they are concerned.

Rob Wilson, football finance expert

As a consequence, crowds at midweek Championship games have dropped significantly since they were made available via the red button in late August.

During the first three midweek rounds of the 2018-19 season crowds dipped by 8.8 per cent from levels recorded at weekend games, compared to a drop of 4.5 per cent last year.

Figures released in October also revealed that League One had seen a 13 per cent decrease in attendances in their midweek matches, with that figure rising to 20 per cent for League Two games following the introduction of iFollow streaming.

A number of clubs have expressed concerns to the EFL, who formally agreed a record £595m, five-year TV deal with Sky in November with the contract starting next season and running until May, 2024.

Rob Wilson, an expert in sports finance at Sheffield Hallam University, told The Yorkshire Post: “If I was on the board of one of these clubs I think I would be using this recently-signed TV deal to make my protests known.

“It would be less about the overall bigger deal and more about the iFollow stuff.

“From what I have been told the chairmen were not really told what was going to happen and it was a little bit under the radar.

“iFollow is killing live attendances and that is not what TV is supposed to do.

“Good television is built on good live attendances, which is what ultimately drives up the deal. It is having an impact, especially on away attendances.

“The smaller clubs, the further down the system you go, are more dependent on ticket revenue.

“When they start seeing significant drops in attendance, even if it is only over four or five games a season, it adds up to a significant amount of finance as far as they are concerned.

“It will threaten them a little bit, for sure.

“The well-supported ones will still generate a crowd, but it is different for others.”

Despite the EFL agreeing a new £595m broadcasting deal with Sky – a 35 per cent increase on the previous contract – last month, significant criticism arrived from a number of leading Championship clubs, who were unhappy with the terms.

They included the likes of Leeds United, Derby County and Aston Villa, who believe the deal is miniscule compared to the £4.55bn that Sky and BT have agreed to pay to show 180 Premier League games per season from 2019-22.

Up to 15 Championship clubs reportedly wanted to reject the five-year Sky offer, believing that it tied the league in too long and was not worth enough money, while expressing ‘grave concern’ at the deal being signed.

Discussions were held by a number of unhappy clubs, some of whom were also understood to have threatened to break away from the EFL to form a ‘Premier League 2’.

This is viewed as an unrealistic scenario by Wilson, who believes that the overall deal is good news for the vast majority of EFL clubs – even if several leading clubs continue to voice their unhappiness.

On the breakaway talk he said: “I do not think any of them are going to be able to really do something landscape changing. I think it is a bit of posturing.

“I do have a bit of sympathy as the EFL are trying to do their best for the whole league.

“Ultimately all the protests are coming from the bigger clubs and the smaller clubs, whose voices are not perhaps being heard, are probably fairly happy.

“The actual value is a fair one, in my opinion.

“It is also a better deal as it is sustainable and guaranteed and we are not going to get another ITV Digital crisis where a digital provider comes in and pays too much for it and goes out of business.

“This brings in a decent supplier who can afford to pay the deal. It is a guaranteed level of income that can enable clubs to do their budgets.

“Those bigger clubs might think they could have got a bit more, but in my view it is a fairer deal all around.

“It is very much a mirror image of what is happening in the Premier League, albeit at a slightly different level.

“We are seeing a group of bigger clubs saying, ‘This is undersold, we could have got more money than this.’

“To be perfectly honest they could. But the important ‘but’ is that it is a collectors’ agreement and has to cover the whole division.”