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Sky reaches deal to stream live EFL matches

Midweek matches will be streamed starting in the 2019 season

NRL Rd 24 - Cowboys v Sharks Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

Sky sports has reached a deal in which they will be able to stream live EFL matches starting in the 2019 season. The deal is worth a reported £600 million, and it will allow matches that aren’t televised on Sky Sports to be available via a streaming service. Matches that begin between 14.45 and 17.15 on Saturdays will not be available to stream, but midweek matches will be able to be viewed.

Sky Sports will still retain rights to show the Carabao (League) Cup, Checkatrade (FA) Trophy, and the EFL Playoffs over the air, but will now be able to also provide UK based fans some of the same access to matches that non-UK fans enjoy right now through the iFollow or club-based streaming services. The deal does not include the Premier League clubs. Hopefully fans of Leeds United won’t have to worry about this deal, as it kicks in for the 2019-20 season and Leeds will be in the Premier League by that time, right?

This deal is somewhat of a game changer in terms of access to see your favorite clubs without having to resort to dodgy streams or heading to a pub with a feed from overseas. It will be interesting to see how much, if at all, attendances will be affected by the streaming service. Midweek matches typically suffer from poor attendance already, and while a few people might decide to skip the match and stay at home and watch it, most fans were already skipping the midweek matches already.

Leeds look to have a rather large turnout for tonight’s match, but most midweek matches have had poor attendances. Clubs with grounds outside of the city centre or with poor transport links often make it a challenge to attend away matches if the club doesn’t arrange transport for away fans, and many fans simply can’t take the time or spend the money to travel to many away matches during the week. It’s hard enough to make a midweek match, especially if one has to work late or has childcare problems and other commitments. This is a low-risk move by the EFL and will allow it to study if the streaming service has any effect on attendances.

In the United States, NFL teams have “blackout rules.” Under these agreements, teams that don’t sell a certain percentage of tickets (usually very high) will get “blacked out” on local TV, meaning that the local channel will not show the local NFL game and show another game instead. This is supposed to help drive the demand for tickets, as if enough people don’t show up for a game, no one will be able to see it on television. However, in practice most teams rarely come close to blackouts and those that do often do ticket giveaways or give steep discounts for business “sponsors” to purchase blocks of tickets to prevent a blackout. Famously, Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson of the Cincinnati Bengals has actually purchased a number of tickets to ensure that a playoff game would be seen on local TV.

Most other US sports leagues don’t have blackout rules as the revenue they get from TV deals far outweigh the loss of ticket revenue. Of course, there is also the issue of the number of NFL teams vs the number of football teams in the US. The NFL has 32 teams for a population of around 320 million people, the UK has 92 Premier League and Football League teams for 60 million people. Chicago and London have similar metropolitan area populations, and while Greater London has six Premier League clubs and another 11 teams (depending on how Greater London is defined) in the Football League, Chicago has one NFL team, the Chicago Bears.

If attendances are not affected to a large degree, expect to see an expansion of matches being shown on streaming services or television. And while showing Premier League matches during the traditional kickoff time, 15.00 on Saturdays, may not happen anytime soon, if enough revenue is raised from streaming services, EFL clubs might be open to streaming or televising those matches. An increase in television revenue will only serve to increase amount of revenue for EFL clubs and that’s a good thing.

Just don’t expect ticket prices to go down. Let’s not go crazy.