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Midweek Musings: In Defence of Live-Streaming Football

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Dear Reading FC, please continue giving us the option to live stream every game next season.

Reading v Cardiff City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

There’s been a lot of news around Reading FC over the past few weeks. Tom McIntyre signing a new contract, Michael Olise leaving the club for bobbins compared to his worth. With The Tilehurst End’s other writers covering those in excellent form though, I’m here to assess some news that may have gone under the radar for most. This is a bit of a personal and possibly controversial piece that might not be for everyone, but I hope you’ll have a read of what I have to say!

Reading have made the decision this year to move away from the live match-streaming service iFollow. The club’s choice to quit their partnership with iFollow will likely seem a fair one to many. iFollow had issues last year, leading to countless fans missing whole halves of Reading’s games despite paying a lofty fee for individual passes. Given the role that being able to stream the football played in making people’s lives a little easier last year, that’s an unacceptable outcome.

On top of that, it seems an ever-growing number of fans will be let into the Mad Stad in 2021/22. 6,000 will be allowed at the West Ham friendly this month: the entire total of our attendance last year, and there are rumors that leagues will be allowed full capacity at points in the season.

With more fans able to attend games again, it’s likely that streaming numbers will decline significantly. Perhaps with that in mind, and the club’s likely worry that streaming live games may cut into attendance figures when the stadium can be filled, there is less hunger from the club to provide a full season of games available to stream online.

Wimbledon 2021 - Day Two - The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club Photo by Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images

I can understand the decision to move away from iFollow then, and I’ll clear this up from the outset: this is not a defence of iFollow. I have not experienced the same issues that many have, but switching to an in-house solution is something I was initially very excited for. Thanks to the following information being added to the club website recently however, I do have some concerns.

The club states: “Last season, all non-televised games were made available due to fixtures being played behind closed doors for the first time; this may not be the case in the 2021-22.”

That doesn’t quite hold water for me. I’ve had a season pass for two years now, and the full 46 games were available as an option in the days when the majority of us associated the term “corona” with a brand of beer.

I’m thrilled that the Madejski Stadium will be filled again next year. The noise of fans is something I missed vigorously while watching last year, and I expect it would’ve made a difference as Reading’s play-off run faltered. That said, I think it would be a mistake for the club to not do everything it can to secure 46 games streaming live into the homes of anybody willing to pay next year.

Reading v Nottingham Forest - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images

There are many of us who will not be able to attend as much as they want next year and beyond. The immuno-compromised who have been unable to get vaccinated may not yet feel comfortable with attending games; the pandemic is becoming far more manageable, but it is by no means over. I also don’t expect that requirements to self-isolate brought on by the government will entirely disappear before the end of this season. Fans in isolation desperately looking for something to do will likely be willing customers for games streaming live.

I would argue that the ability to watch the team whenever you want, regardless of your situation, is part of what has fostered a fantastic attitude around the club over the past year. The current players are incredibly likeable, but it’s still much easier to feel connected to them when you get to see them play week in week out. Taking the option to watch the games away from the fanbase could begin to chip away at that good feeling again, especially if results start to slip.

My personal concern is for reasons of geography. I’m an international fan of the Royals, having moved away from the south of England some seven years back. It’s a decision that I’ve never regretted, but there are always times when I certainly miss home, steak bakes, and the Mad Stad. That distance from Reading means attending games is something I only get to do once or twice a season, and so for myself as an avid fan, being able to stream games is more than a nice benefit - it’s essential.

Naturally, it’s been an absolutely invaluable resource for me through my time writing with The Tilehurst End. If I can’t watch how the team plays and evolves, I shouldn’t really be able to comment on them! I’ll note that the club does state that full match replays will be available for free on demand, but there’s nothing quite like the tension and jeopardy of live football.

Wimbledon 2021 - Day Two - The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club Photo by Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images

Moreover, watching the team has been one of my highlights of the week, every week. Unsurprisingly, while the wonders of modern technology allow me to frequently catch up or play games with family and friends, a sense of disconnect from the UK can set in when you’re not headquartered on British shores. Watching the team I love, even when things aren’t going well, has meant the world to me and helped me feel connected to my birthplace even when I’m 3,000 miles away.

Being able to watch the full season was a fantastic option that iFollow provided, and issues aside, I’ve never had any hesitation in paying up my season pass each year. There’s also no danger of losing ticket sales to fans based across an ocean, just a danger of losing streaming season ticket sales, which must also provide a decent source of income for the club that wasn’t available in years past. I’ve always felt happy to pay for the matches as it seemed to be a great way to support the club I love.

To summarise, I can totally appreciate the decision the club made in removing their games from the iFollow service this year. I just want confirmation from the club that they’re doing everything they can to bring us a season pass for streaming. The privilege of watching games live creates a connection with the club that is irreplaceable with highlights or Twitter updates, and it would be a shame for that to go missing. Football is nothing without fans, but that goes for those in Y26, or those watching on their phones in their back gardens!

If you read this far, thanks so much for having a read of my very personal rant! Hopefully the club clears this issue up soon, and a 46-game streaming package is made available for purchase. Trust me, I’m hoping that this article looks a bit foolish in hindsight. Until I have egg on my face though, I’ll be one of many international or other Reading fans unable to return to the Madejski holding their breath!