EFL’s iFollow to bring overseas fans of lower league football every live game next season

The English Football League yesterday announced its new iFollow service, a new digital platform to provide coverage of the Championship, League One and League Two football to fans outside of the UK.

For £110 per season, overseas fans can access the platform, which provides full coverage of every game not shown by the broadcast rightsholder.

“We give our overseas broadcast partners a package of 148 games – essentially the same games as you see live on Sky Sports in the UK – so that leaves you with just over 1500 games which are essentially blacked out,” said Drew Barrand, Marketing Director, EFL.

Those blacked-out games won’t be lost to fans from next season if you’re outside of the UK, but the 148 games which are provided to broadcast partners won’t be made available through iFollow.

What this means for many fans – 270,000 fans of EFL clubs outside of the UK, the league estimates – is clear. But for many of the clubs themselves, this is very new: not only are they able to provide their fans outside their own jurisdiction with a platform to watch most of the games as they’re happening, they also have a platform to broadcast globally in a way they never have done before, though the benefits of this are limited.

“The business model is based around providing ex-pats and existing fans who live in other markets with access to games,” says Barrand. “What this will change is the exposure that most of our teams receive in terms of the global audience, but the product is essentially aimed at people who are existing fans of the clubs and providing them with greater access to those games.”

It is, it seems, a way to allow clubs to consolidate their existing overseas fanbase who aren’t able to see many of their club’s games, rather than a means to boost their global brand. In an era where the biggest leagues in the world become more and more popular around the world, they tend to eat the smaller ones. Despite this, the Championship remains one of the most watched leagues in the world. In terms of attendances at grounds, it ranks incredibly highly, too – and channeling the same enthusiasm of local fans in those outside of the UK is important for keeping its prestige high.

Capturing some of the revenue would be good, too.

Global broadcasting rights are one way of creating revenue from fans worldwide, but with the extra 1500 games that aren’t being broadcast, cutting out the middleman doesn’t just make sense from a fan retention standpoint. It makes sense as a new revenue stream, too.

How is the money divided up, then? After all, iFollow is an EFL service provided by the league to its clubs – do they take a percentage of the £110 per season?

“It’s not that the club takes a percent,” says Barrand. “If the Bolton Wanderers fan subscribes to iFollow, they will do it through the club website and that money goes to Bolton Wanderers. The operating costs are taken out, and the rest of the money goes to the club where the subscription was sourced from.”

As this is an opportunity made available to all of the EFL’s clubs for next season, it was somewhat surprising that, when it was announced, only 61 of the 72 clubs were named.

The other 11, though, will still be involved.

“They’ve not decided not to take part,” he says. “The rights to stream games exist across to all 72 clubs regardless of whether they’re part of iFollow or not The reason why some clubs are not part of iFollow is a historical piece around their digital infrastructure.”

“For example Aston Villa, who have never been in the EFL before this season, have made a capital investment in their website and their infrastructure when they were in the Premier League. And they’re not going to suddenly going to scrub off that money and join us when one already exists for them.”

In other words, all of the EFL’s 72 teams will stream all of their games (aside from the games already taken by the league’s overseas broadcast partners), and fans can subscribe through their own club’s website, but those not administered by the EFL’s iFollow will just be delivered differently.

“The rights still exists,” says Barrand, “they’re just delivering it through their own digital infrastructure.”

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Chris McMullan
Chris McMullan 233 posts

Chris is a sports journalist and a regular contributor to Digital Sport - follow him on Twitter @CJMcMullan91

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