EXCLUSIVE EFL’s live streaming service iFollow has generated more than £11 million for clubs this season but attracts 1,000 complaints each weekend as fans struggle to log on and sound and vision are not in sync
- iFollow service has given fans a lifeline to watch their clubs during lockdown
- More than one billion streams have been delivered from matches this season
- Clubs have secured vital revenue but it is a fraction of usual gate receipts
- Service has been hit by problems that have affected 1% of customers
- Papa John’s Trophy game made just £330, equivalent of 33 £10 match passes
Clubs in the EFL have generated more than £11 million from streaming live league and cup matches this season, but the service is attracting 1,000 complaints every weekend, Sportsmail can reveal
The income from streaming games is welcomed by clubs, but it accounts for little more than one tenth of the revenue they would have made from matchday ticket sales if fans had been in grounds.
And the experience for some fans falls short of expectations with common problems including, live feeds not starting until part way through the game and the commentary and images being out of sync.
Fans have complained about delays in streaming matches and sound and vision out of sync
The majority of teams in the Championship, League One and League Two have been streaming their fixtures via the iFollow service and typically the platform attracts 100,000 users each weekend.
Although not every encounter has excited the punters, with one Papa John’s Trophy match generating just £330, the equivalent of 33 £10 match passes.
Over 11 rounds of league games, total domestic revenue stands at £7.7 million, with each weekend of fixtures bringing in £796,000 and midweek matches making £620,000.
In total, 1.26 million people have accessed EFL matches, which includes 483,000 season ticket holders and 772,000 buying match passes.
Most EFL clubs use iFollow to stream matches so fans can watch the action during lockdown
And in addition, 267,000 fans have watched FA Cup, Carabao Cup and Papa John’s Trophy games, generating a further £2.7m.
Fans from abroad have been logging on to get their fix, too, spending £1.4 million to watch the action.
Exact arrangements can vary between clubs, but generally supporters can access the live stream by redeeming their season ticket, purchasing a matchday pass for £10 or a season pass.
Fan forums and club websites have documented problems in streaming during the last few months.
iFollow has been a lifeline for fans who have not been able to access stadiums since March
One Norwich fan went online after his side won 1-0 away at Huddersfield Town.
‘My iFollow didn’t start till the 12th minute and thereafter the commentary was 30 seconds behind,’ said the disgruntled supporter, who was fortunate the Canaries’ winner, from Adam Idah, was scored in the 80th minute.
‘I shall be asking for a full refund on the basis that I didn’t get the full match that I paid for. I suggest everyone does the same and refuse a credit. It won’t get better unless we complain.’
Despite the problems, the iFollow service has maintained valuable link between clubs and fans, and created a lifeline of revenue for sides crippled by the absence of crowds.
Fans – the flesh and blood versions – are barred from the behind-closed-doors matches
The EFL points out that overall, despite the challenges, the scheme has been a success in unprecedented circumstances.
‘This has been a massive operation for us,’ said a spokeswoman. ‘ We cannot say it is without fault, but we have to look at the amount of streams that have been successfully delivered.’
The EFL says overall, one billion streams have been completed and the average number of complaints each weekend amounts to one per cent.
‘We have had technical issues and we continue to work through those,’ added the spokeswoman.
EFL chairman Rick Parry is negotiating with the Premier League for financial support to clubs
While the income from the live streams is welcome, it is small beer compared to the revenue from a normal matchday with fans present. A point the EFL is keen to stress.
Football finance analyst, Kieran Maguire, who has studied the figures and agrees the value to clubs is limited.
‘It’s a welcome contribution for clubs, but it is not the answer to their financial needs and especially for those clubs in League One and Two,’ said Maguire, a lecturer at the University of Liverpool.
‘Clubs are getting 10 to 15% of the money they would expect to get through the turnstiles. It is not a replacement for ticket sales.’
Maguire points out that the financial crisis among League Two, One and Championship clubs still requires external intervention and discussions with the Premier League over a bail out are yet to be concluded.
The EFL says it is working through issues with iFollow but points out the scale of the operation
One billion live streams have been completed this season as part of the EFL’s iFollow scheme
In the lower leagues, EFL is still pushing for the Premier League to convert its offer of £20m of grants and £30m of loans into one pot of £50m in grants.
The EFL argues clubs simply cannot take on more debt.
Meanwhile, the EFL and Premier League continue to work out how to support the Championship clubs. The latest suggestion is for a £200m loan facility for second tier teams, which was suggested at an EFL meeting last week, but details have yet to emerge.
‘There seems to be a concept without any meat on the bones,’ QPR chief executive Lee Hoos told Sportsmail.
QPR chief executive Lee Hoos waiting for details of Premier League help for the Championship
‘But at least the Premier League is now talking about the Championship, whereas before the Championship was frozen out altogether.’
Hoos is not optimistic that the EFL and Premier League will come to an agreement soon, fearing it could be weeks rather than days.
Loans to Championship clubs would be repayable from regular payments the Premier League makes to them each year.
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