Streaming – who benefits ?

"I can see people saying, ‘I’m not going to go to that (away) game. I’ll pay a tenner and watch at home’."

These are the words of Cambridge United CEO, Alex Tunbridge, who fears that reduced away support will impact his club's gate revenue with no compensating income via streaming because all streaming income is kept by the club that sells the stream.

At the EFL Annual General Meeting this summer, a majority of clubs voted to make it compulsory that, apart from 3pm Saturday games, every game staged in League One and League Two both during the World Cup in November and December and on domestic Bank Holidays be streamed. That will include Boxing Day, New Year’s Day and the 2023 Easter programme.

Ipswich are understood to have banked about £750,000 in streaming sales last season. Bolton say that they made £500,000 and Plymouth were somewhere in between. Sheffield Wednesday and Derby County can expect to bank even more with the chance to stream their Boxing Day and New Year’s Day fixtures this season.

There is not much opposition from clubs about the principle of streaming. The contentious issue is how the revenue from streaming is allocated. In the 20/21 season, a share of the away club’s streaming pass sales for a given match got passed back to the home side. However, this was a temporary measure in light of Covid restrictions and the current arrangements direct all the income to the seller of the stream.

Andy Holt - owner of our first opponents Accrington Stanley - is the most vociferous critic of these arrangements:

“I’m not against streaming,” he says. “It’s a good thing — provided it’s managed right. But the way it’s been set up, with the club that sells the pass keeping the revenue, is crazy. What we’re doing via this stupid mechanism is subsidising bigger clubs. In the long run, this is going to hurt us. It’s an attack on the small clubs. I’m fed up with it. It’s such an important issue in the life and times of Accrington Stanley that I have to stand up and fight."

"When I speak to the EFL, they tell me that every club has the same opportunity,” Holt continues. “Both clubs can sell streaming to both games, home and away. But you might have one club with a 100,000 fanbase to sell into. I’ve got 2,000. The opportunity for me is neither use nor ornament."

He argues that "the solution should be that if a game is streamed at our ground, then either we get the revenue or it’s split equally. I can’t let people stream at our ground and keep all the cash when I’ve got no way of recovering it. The top clubs are getting hundreds of thousands of revenue (through streaming) and we’re getting £20,000 or £30,000 in a year.  Why would you give it to the away club? That’s the least sensible option. There’s no logic to it. What the EFL won’t tell you is that we lose gates on games that are streamed. That’s a fact. We’ve got Barnsley (at home) on Boxing Day, and we’d have expected that to be a full house. Now, I’m not so sure. It’s not just losing a visitor. It’s the refreshments, it’s the programmes. If we lose 1,000 fans then it could be £35,000 we’re down for a matchday.”

Bolton Wanderers CEO Neil Hart sees it differently:

“We’re really pleased with what we were able to do with streaming last season and we voted firmly in favour of streaming and for it to be compulsory, aside from the 3pm blackout on a Saturday. I’m sure there are clubs in League One and lower down the pyramid with very localised fanbases who won’t get the financial benefits from that. And I’m not sure there’s a clear solution to that yet. That does need to be considered more, and that’s one for the EFL. You won’t be surprised to learn that I think the distribution should sit with the selling club — they’re our supporters, and we’re the ones who should benefit."

Jamie Yabsley (Plymouth Head of Marketing and Communications) adds:

“We’ve not seen streaming affect our physical attendances. If a club is selling, managing and administering the process of streaming the game, then they should benefit from the revenue from it. That was the vote in League One and it was passed through. It’s what we voted for.

I sympathise with clubs. I read Andy Holt’s letter and I sympathise with their position. Will they be affected by us streaming their game if it was a Tuesday night? Potentially. But I’m not sure any less supporters would make the journey.”

The issue of the extent to which away attendances suffer because of the availability of streaming is crucial in this argument. When CAST surveyed Charlton supporters on the subject last year the majority claimed that it made no difference to their decision whether to travel or not. Some noted that streaming had re-engaged them with the club and made their in-person attendance more likely. Charlton, like some other clubs, has also made an investment in its own streaming production - in our case with Charlton TV. However, it is reasonably safe to assume that on a cold winter evening some fans will decide to save on travel costs if they can enjoy a stream at home by their fireside.

It needs two teams to stage a match and Andy Holt's argument that the away team's streaming income should be shared with the home team does have some substance. It doesn't seem beyond the bounds of possibility that a formula could be agreed which rewards both sides, even though the majority of EFL clubs don't currently support the idea.


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