Does live-streaming represent many missed opportunities by the SPFL?

By Jamie Spreng

It is now mid January, and as I just finish watching my 5th away stream of the season (Raith away  to Hearts), it leaves me more and more certain that we may not be in stadiums again this season.  All fans hold onto the hope that the vaccines will reach us quickly and we can get back to our  normal Saturdays.

Mapping out the easiest journey to the away game, having correct change  ready for your supporter bus fees, working out who will drive so the rest of you can have a few  pints at the many welcoming pubs around the picturesque grounds we all miss right now. But it’s  unlikely. It’s hard to contemplate that it might be into the 2021/2022 season before we have to  deal with the same shouts from the guy 3 rows behind you, forever berating your left back for not  “finding a pass”. Oh how I long for that right now. 

But if we journey back to the beginning of our seasons. New hope. Yes fans might not be in yet  but at least we can still watch the games? I don’t even have to leave my house. I’ll pop the laptop  on, grab a beer and enjoy Raith Rovers vs Arbroath from the comfort of my living room. 

Now I don’t think anyone on the first weekend of their season didn’t come across some teething  problems with their streams. It was bound to happen. For most of the clubs in the SPFL, this “new  normal” was uncharted territory. Over the summer, clubs had to quickly get their streaming  service ready (we will come onto the problems of this later), build the login platforms, payment  screens and have it at least presentable to the viewing public. 

Had to refresh my stream a few times but, a good end to the day. Comfortable victory for the men  from Kirkcaldy. I could get used to this. Who do we have next week? Queen of the South away.  Would’ve looked forward to the supporters bus to Dumfries too. Oh well, might see if one of my  mates wants to come round and watch? Socially distanced of course.  

Saturday comes round again, realising you have to register with the away teams TV channel at  first seems fine. Most need an email address and a password. Should be easy. Ok some might  require your password to have a capital letter. Some need a special character.

Either way, you get  there in the end. Card details finally entered and you’re ready to watch your purchased stream.  Another victory for Rovers and I don’t need to endure the 3+ hour journey home. What’s not to  like about this. Dundee away next week. Must remember to setup a login and purchase the game. 

And you can see a theme is building here. Only in Scottish football would you need to setup 9  different logins to watch your team (11 in the Premiership). With all the soap opera we had to live  with once the seasons were infamously curtailed, Scottish football never fails to deliver a problem  we should never have to live with. 

Now this piece might sound like I’m moaning for the sake of it. Or I just support a wee club that  never gets the glitz and glamour of a multi million pound Sky Sports TV deal. And there may be a  point to that. Of course it’d be easier to turn your TV on and Raith were there. But we don’t have  that. Sure many of the Championship clubs will get their day on BBC either via their Friday night  coverage or if lucky, a Scottish Cup tie. But the fact is, most will need to live with streaming for  some time until it is safe to return to grounds.  

So why make this new experience turn into a hassle? Scottish football fans have it hard enough  right now.

Their Saturday fix has been taken away from them. Some clubs came close to  extinction and we are all grateful to the benefactor James Anderson and the government grants  that became available. Without them, the SPFL club funeral procession would’ve had to have  more than the allotted 20 guests the government allow right now. That’s how close some clubs  came. 

My question is, where was the forward thinking ideas from our governing body on the next steps.  Yes it would not have been a quick fix but surely someone on the sixth floor of Hampden is also a  fan of one of these clubs and mapped out in their head “How many passwords am I going to need  to create?”.  

And I’m not alone in my frustrations:

Neil Ferguson (@Neildous) and Stu MacPherson (@WebStuPointO), season ticket holders at St  Johnstone, collectively agree the multi login process is tedious.  

Stu MacPherson – “I’ve now got a login for every Premiership club, seems pointless when it’s the  same platform being used by every club.” 

Neil Ferguson – “I laugh at the fact I’ve now got a login for every Premiership clubs TV channel,  although I can now use it when we’re going back around teams we’ve already played away!”  

And Dylan MacDonald, co-host of the TalkingLowerLeague podcast and an avid Clyde fan added  “The SPFL needed a cohesive approach to streaming from the Premiership to League Two. One  off or monthly payments for all matches, similar to Irish football or other sports like NBA etc in the  USA” 

And Dylan raises a good point. Other countries have adopted a more forward thinking approach.  The League of Ireland have one site where you can pick your matches you want to watch and  have instant access to previous games. And an added bonus for their fans, access to some  classic International matches involving the ROI. A fantastic setup and would surely have been  welcomed by our leagues?  

Well perhaps not. The potentially added bonus of having your clubs owns TV stream when playing  at home is generally good to watch. At Raith, half time consists of some really good interviews  with current and ex players, giving you insight we perhaps would not have had before COVID. And  the chat message boards during the game can be a bit of fun at times if you can be bothered with  that kind of stuff. But the commentary is of course Raith Rovers fans/volunteers. They do their  best to not be biased and usually succeed. But it’s only natural you are going to subconsciously  lean towards your team.  

At St Johnstone, Neil and Stu usually have the luxury of switching between home or away  commentary and commentary quality can vary at clubs 

Stu MacPherson – “I’ve found commentary to be much better at some clubs. Hibs and Dundee  United very balanced and interesting to listen to. Hamilton by far and beyond the worst.” 

And at Clyde, whilst Dylan believes the commentary has been impressive across the board, he  does agree that a more neutral approach is needed. 

Dylan MacDonald – “Would like to see more neutral, upcoming broadcasters, bloggers,  podcasters given an opportunity on different teams channels, whether they support them or not”  

And that’s where the SPFL would gain some much needed respect. Giving people opportunities in  this game is what’s always needed. There’s no doubt Scottish football has the people out there  who love to talk up the game. Just search Scottish football in a podcast search and you’ll find  many different variations. So why not give these guys a chance on a more neutral aspect?

You  think of Sky Sports, covering Man United vs Liverpool for example, Martin Tyler, Gary Neville and  Jamie Carragher. I know Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher are club legends of the teams, and  have the clubs in their hearts, but equally I know when I sit down to watch this game they will  offer good insight towards the game I am watching, without the potential bias that could be there.  Surely it’s possible up here? 

So what is the solution I hear you ask? Well the easy option is of course, get fans back. And I am  all for it. There has to be a way the government and the football governing body can work  together with a socially distanced model. Clubs would bend over backwards just to get some  atmosphere and money into the clubs. But is it enough? The answer, probably not. A stadium  filled to a tenth of its capacity will not save clubs and still means fans need to put up with a  streaming solution. 

Dylan and his podcast co-hosts Ross and Ally froxsm the TalkingLowerLeague podcast debated  this in the past and they feel the solution lies with the governing body.

“Overall, the SPFL needs a commercial and digital re-think as it is. However, more comms  support from the governing bodies when teams are trying to promote their games on streams.  Alongside this, in future, SPFL TV with regular live streamed games, highlights, interviews  podcasts needs explored for a more global reach on our game”.  

We have a brand we need to promote better. Look at our leagues over the last few years. The  ongoing battle between the old firm with Gerrard looking like he has stopped 10 in a row. The  strength of the Championship continues to show with teams no closer to a playoff position as  they are looking over their shoulders at potential relegation.

Further down the leagues we had the terrific battle between Falkirk and Raith Rovers before football was stopped. Raith were also  involved in another title battle in League One 2 years prior with Ayr United, going to the final day  where the Honest Men came out on top. Further back in League One, Morton, Stranraer and  Forfar finished within 3 points from 1st to 3rd. In League Two, Peterhead and Clyde battled to the  end a few years ago, East Fife and Elgin also. There is something there, but if people can’t find it,  how can we talk it up! 

Digital transformation may not be at the top of the agenda right now at the floors of Hampden, but  the longer they leave this, the harder it will be for our game to be modernised.

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