With the restrictions faced by clubs up and down the country on the return of supporters to football stadiums the EFL Digital iFollow streaming service has become increasingly important, both in terms of bringing real-time action to the fans and for the vital revenue stream it provides.
Chief executive Nigel Clibbens has delved into the first month of viewing figures from a club point of view.
We now have data from five League Two matches for our iFollow UK streams - two at home and three away.
The UK paid subscriptions are as follows:
Southend - 486 (low as we had 1,000 fans in the stadium)
Barrow - 961
Cambridge - 643
Scunthorpe - 619
Port Vale - 684
That is a total of 3,093 paid streams at £8 each, giving income to the club of around £25,000 from five games so far.
We rank fourth in League Two for paid home streams (some clubs have very high numbers of free home passes given to season ticket holders, meaning paid home streams are low).
Eight clubs are giving free home passes to close to 1,000 season ticket holders each match.
For the Barrow game we had 304 free passes used by season ticket holders.
We rank eleventh for most paid away streams.
Over a 23-game season that’s roughly £100k of streaming income.
For comparison our walk-up income is around £575,000 in a normal season.
That is £5k per game streaming income, compared with over £25k per game from walk-up tickets sales and £15k from season tickets.
We can now see how this new streaming income makes a welcome contribution to the total match ticket income lost due to the lock out, but it also demonstrates how big a gap remains.
At a time when fans can’t go to games iFollow is a really good way for fans to still support the club financially and support the team in spirit.
It means many fans can actually see us play away from home more often than ever before.
The services has generally been excellent and robust so far, despite hugely increased usage. It is clear as more fans use the system, and become familiar with it, the easier and better the experience.
When there are iFollow issues, we get notified by EFL Digital direct immediately so we can alert fans and help where we can, but we also see the fan issues straight away via social media.
We understand any poor experiences undermine confidence to buy the product, and that harms the club. We take the quality very seriously, as does the EFL.
A lot of work is going on behind the scenes to make sure it is continually improved and refined.
Over the coming weeks we hope more and more fans will use iFollow to cheer the lads on. We know it’s no substitute for being at the game in person, but you can be assured that it makes a difference.
Speaking specifically about the issue of illegal streams and piracy, Nigel said: “We have spoken to the EFL about the issue of illegal streams and piracy because it has been a problem for many years, particularly at the upper levels of the game with the amount of football that is streamed live.
“It’s a very difficult thing to stop, and that’s why I would like to appeal to fans not to make use of any illegal streams or broadcasts they come across.
“This includes if they hear of any pubs, clubs or venues which are advertising under the radar about putting their stream on a big screen, or however they decide to do it.
“These activities take desperately needed money directly away from the club at what is a really difficult time for us, which is obviously not a good thing in itself, and more importantly it’s illegal and it can lead to legal action being taken.
“We know that nothing will ever replace actually coming to the game, but as you can see from the iFollow update we’ve provided, our streaming service is currently a vital source of income which is very important to Carlisle United.
“That’s why we hope that fans will stay away from illegal streams and back the Blues using the official iFollow service.”
The income from the first 500 streams bought by CUFC fans for away games (£8 x 500 =£4,000) is paid to the home club.
But by the same mechanism we get the value of the first 500 subscribers from every away team coming to Brunton Park.
We have to pay Cambridge, Scunthorpe and Port Vale £4,000 each, but we will get £4,000 from Southend and Barrow. Over the season the net effect of this is neutral - if we sell at least 500 streams per away game.
Speaking about the excellent numbers being reported from the club’s iFollow service, manager Chris Beech said: “Thank you for the support, that’s all we can say.
“I often say to the lads in team talks that there might not be anybody out there to help you, but they’re at home cheering you on. We know the fans are there and that’s why it’s vital that we continue to try to represent the community to the best of our ability.
“The younger players are constantly on Twitter and Instagram and social media, so they see all of that, and it’s good that we know the support is there. Obviously we’d prefer all of the fans to be here, because we want to share our experiences with them.
“Just imagine how good it would have been to have fans here for the Barrow game, and for other games we’ve had here. I remember the scenes at Mansfield when we equalised in the last minute of the game, and sharing those moments is what this sport is all about.
“However, it is what it is and the second-best thing we can do at the moment is know that we have people watching on iFollow. The numbers are great, because this is a big club isn’t it.
“Even doing an interview like this with everybody here, at Rochdale you’d probably have to get to the third or fourth round of the FA Cup for this level of interest. The club is massive, really, and it’s a big part of the community because it’s right at the hub.
“What we have to try and do is make sure we represent that to the best of our ability. If I can get myself and the players doing that we’ll do ok, and we’ll be sharing some good experiences together on it, because there’s always pride in working as hard as you possibly can.
“The iFollow and media interest shows how much people care. I’m very grateful for any support I get from any area, whether it’s someone trying to do something to help, or supporters wishing you well, or staff going beyond their normal parameters to help you to get tree points. It all matters.
“Any football club cascades backwards from the first team and it’s about all of us getting that three-point feeling. It filters through everybody at the club and everybody feels better because you’ve won.
“It’s amazing the spring in the step it can give you, but it works the other way as well if you don’t gain it. It’s strange to base your whole life off it, and it even affects your private life, if I’m being honest with you.
“That’s the way it is, it’s the industry we work in, and a winning team is what our fans look to support. It’s just a shame they can’t share these current experiences with us, but they’re doing their best to keep in touch with us with the media, the News & Star has been brilliant, BBC Cumbria is whacking it out there on the airwaves, the TV are there and, of course, we have iFollow.
“That’s brilliant because it means we have fans seeing us, and that’s massive for all of us.”