Written by John Davidson
Hunslet director Damian Irvine has warned that online streaming of matches will not be the saviour for Championship and League 1 rugby league clubs or bring in the large revenues that many are expecting.
With the next Sky TV deal to be worth less than the current one, and with some matches to be played behind closed doors this season, the RFL plans to broadcast more pay-per-view coverage of second and third division fixtures online.
But Irvine, the former chairman of NRL club Cronulla Sharks, believes that streaming will only generate a very small amount of money for clubs and will be the windfall many are tipping.
“The biggest fallacy at the moment, which I think a lot of clubs and the RFL, I think they’re aware but I’ve found it in football in a similar or comparative level to a lot of Championship and League 1 clubs, crowds ranging from 400 to 1500 give or take, is that streaming is by no means the be-all-and-end-all for revenue,” he told the Forty20 LIVE podcast.
“It brings a little bit in. A little bit. Most clubs in the Championship and League 1 would profit more from their coffee and tea bar in a game than they would from streaming.
“That might sound doom and gloom, but I think we have to be prepared. You can’t be fantastical about it and say we’re going to get 1500 streamers. If it was that easy to get 800 paid subscribers on a stream then we’d all be doing it for everything.
“The fact is we’ve got a proven test data case from a number of football clubs over the last 12 months in real-time, with real money passed over from people logging in and paying through the commerce platforms on streaming. We know the numbers.
“And I can tell you it’s below 30% of your average gate maximum that people will watch. I don’t care what anyone says. They can say ‘well we’re different and we haven’t played for 12 months’.
“Well that’s all true, and you might get a good game here or there, but streaming is by no means the answer.
“If you’re a club budgeting for any sort of streaming in your modeling saying we’ll be OK because that will be coming in I’d question that and say do your numbers again and take out the streaming. Because anything streaming is a pure bonus, that’s all.”
In 2019 the average attendance in the Championship was around 2,489 per game, while in League 1 it was around 600 fans per fan.
Last year because of the global pandemic football (soccer) clubs in the UK turned to pay-per-viewing to provide revenue while they played matches behind closed doors.
League Two clubs such as Bradford City, Bolton Wanderers, Grimbsy Town, Tranmere Rovers and Leyton Orient had their games broadcast on the iFollow platform, with the fee of £10 per match.
But the streaming failed to bring in significant revenue. According to reports in October Bradford City, which has around 9000 season ticket holders, averaged just 879 streaming purchases for their first two games, while the likes of Bolton averaged 1832 and Grimsby 1013.
Irvine feels it would be the same story in rugby league.
“If a Championship club had 1500 season ticket holders, for example, all of them have to get free access to the stream anyway,” the 46-year-old said.
“So if you’re a League 1 club and you’ve got 200 season ticket holders, or 500, straight away they’re not counted in the pay streaming revenue as you’re giving it to them for free.
“So if you’re saying we should get 300 paid, you’re talking about 300 of the fringe supporters who aren’t even committed enough to have a season ticket or able to, so the religious week-to-week, hardcore ones are already there as they’re free.
“So you’ve got to somehow find 100, which is a big number. Two hundred-edge people, or fringe people, to pay £5 or £6 or £7 or £10.
“So the market is nowhere near what we dream it will be, unfortunately.”