This weekend the English Football League starts up again and joyously fans will be able to fill stands up and down the country. Old friendships and allegiances will be renewed, old matchday habits rekindled and life will feel that bit closer to normality after the darkest of eighteen months.
However, there will be a minority who will not feel able to return to the stands. One of the saving graces of football in the pandemic has been a loosening of the TV streaming arrangements which allowed virtually all home and away games to be streamed by clubs.
But earlier this week the EFL announced that the pre-Covid arrangements for streaming games would largely be reinstated. The Saturday afternoon 3-5pm window becomes sacrosanct once again. Matches in the Championship, League 1 and League 2 during this window can only be streamed overseas.
I can completely understand why the EFL wishes to protect its product. This was the status quo before the pandemic after all. Yet it has the perhaps unintended consequence that a minority of fans are now EXCLUDED from both the game in person and cannot now legally watch a stream.
One longstanding QPR season ticket holder told me that his wife, also a season ticket holder, is clinically vulnerable. She had been formally shielding throughout the pandemic. And whilst shielding itself is no longer ‘formally’ suggested by the medical authorities, there remains a group of people who for whatever reason cannot, should not, or do not wish to risk being around large numbers of people. So for this fan, his wife cannot go. He doesn’t feel he can go alone and risk passing something to her. And the EFL streaming rules mean they cannot watch the game live. Interestingly it isn’t crowds in the stadium they fear… but public transport and tubes in particular.
The football world makes allowances for those who are less fortunate… wheelchair spaces, ambulant disabled and carer tickets, disabled facilities. Why can’t the authorities make some accommodation for cases such as this in the ‘post-pandemic era’?
The fan I spoke to has been in touch with Lee Hoos, QPR CEO, but a response is yet to be forthcoming. And indeed Hoos could probably fairly respond that the issue is out of his hands. After all, televising and streaming games is centrally negotiated by the EFL with Sky and other interested parties.
But it seems unfair to exclude this section of our fanbase (which at QPR we know is ageing). These fans want to watch the games. They can’t attend, but they can’t watch a legal stream either. Why should these genuine supporters be pushed towards illegal streams?
They are happy to continue to pay on the same basis that we all did last season. Is there really nothing the EFL can do for them?