The Premier League have come under pressure to ensure fans are able to watch their teams play when the new season starts on 12th September.
There will be a total of 220 Premier League matches televised during the 2020/21 season, the majority of which will be broadcast on Sky Sports and the rest split between BT Sport and Amazon Prime.
A deal struck between the English Football League (EFL) and Sky Sports in mid-August will allow home matches to be live-streamed to season ticket holders, but there is currently no such arrangement for Premier League clubs.
The Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) have praised the EFL for their commitment to the fans.
An FSA spokesperson said: “We welcome the agreement between the EFL and Sky Sports – match-going fans should not miss out on the ability to watch their side in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Even with the planned return of spectators in October, subject to test events, the majority of fans will miss out on attending in person.”
There are an estimated 600,000 season ticket holders in the Premier League, and the FSA want to ensure these fans do not miss out.
“We will be lobbying the Premier League to ensure similar access is provided for season ticket holders to be able to view their teams’ games before the new season gets underway,” the FSA said.
In addition to live-streaming home matches, the agreement between the EFL and Sky Sports will also allow fans to watch mid-week away matches for a fee of £10 per game.
With the EFL warning earlier this year of a £200m loss, this arrangement looks set to help clubs recoup some of their lost revenue.
David Baldwin, the EFL’s chief executive, says that while live-streaming matches is not the EFL’s preferred situation, it is a good compromise.
“This framework allows our clubs, if they so wish, to reward their most loyal supporters by providing what we hope is only short-term access to watch their matches.
“It’s important that whilst the doors remain fully, or part shut, we ensure there is the ability for fans of all EFL clubs to be able to gain access and watch their team and I would like to take this opportunity to thank Sky Sports for their support in this matter,” Baldwin told the Press Association.
As part of the deal, the Saturday 3pm blackout will be temporarily lifted to allow more matches to be broadcast, a move which has been praised by the FSA.
“We back the temporary suspension of the 3pm Saturday TV blackout, and would be happy to review that periodically with the main stakeholders such as the Premier League, EFL and National League.”
Tom Murray, correspondent for BBC Radio Solent Sport and commentator for Alan March Sport, believes the EFL live-streaming deal is key to keeping fans involved in the game, and wants to see it replicated in the Premier League.
“In normal circumstances the stadiums would be full and it’s key to keep that relationship between clubs and their fans. On a personal level as a commentator for Alan March Sport I have missed being at the ground for the games,” Tom said.
“There should definitely be some kind of service in place for the Premier League. I can understand the difficulties regarding TV rights etc., but I thought that what was done during Project Restart with the free games was actually really positive.
“Even if not to the same extent, it would be good to have something in place until fans can return.”
A Hampshire native, Tom covers his local team Southampton for radio and is part of the Under the Lights podcast team.
He says that Southampton supporters have made the best of a bad situation, but have also been disappointed to miss out on seeing their team play.
“On the pitch the team played superbly and ended season very well, which I suppose is both good and bad for fans.
“While it’s so great to see them do so well, it’s a real shame to not witness some of the performances in person – Ché Adams’ goal vs. Manchester City springs to mind.”
Tom has stressed the benefits of making Premier League matches more freely available to fans.
He said: “I think fans will certainly benefit because they can watch their team, and when some fans are allowed in again, there will be those fans who regularly go who feel quite nervous about returning.
“Having the option available to them, even at a price can only be a good thing whilst the situation is under full control.”
EFL matches will be live-streamed using an app called iFollow, which was launched in 2017 and provides exclusive behind-the-scenes content and live matches for EFL clubs that have signed up to use it.
However, according to the iFollow website, there are 17 clubs including Bournemouth and Watford who have not signed up to the service – fans of clubs who do not use iFollow or have their own streaming service stand to lose out.
Further, some fans of EFL clubs who do not hold season tickets feel that the live-streaming deal has left them out in the cold, as one Middlesbrough fan took to Twitter to share his frustrations.
£10 per game to stream…..
No packages or deals for non ST holders?
We complain about Sky Sports being £25 a month. October we have 6 games…..
Out of touch IMO, exceptional circumstances people will stick to illegal online streams.
— Chris (@smoggiec) August 26, 2020
The Sports Gazette contacted the Premier League to enquire about their plans for the upcoming season, but they declined to comment on whether there will be any similar arrangements made with TV rights holders.