In April 2015 BT Sport and The Football Conference agreed a deal that would revolutionise the top two tiers of Non League football. But how much of a benefit was the work between the two companies?
It was agreed in April of 2015 that BT Sport would extend their broadcasting rights for another three years, this would include exclusive live action from 25 matches throughout the season plus all five matches from the end-of-season play-offs, including the final at Wembley in May.
Another part of the broadcasting deal included BT Sport screening a weekly highlights show featuring action from The Vanarama National League (TVNL).
At the time of announcing BT were extending their ongoing ownership of rights to TVNL. While it is unknown how much the deal is worth, it is understood that each of the twenty-four members clubs would receive a monetary figure for being shown on national television. However, how much of an impact does this income have on the clubs?
With football currently being embedded in the cold and darkness that comes of the winter months, supporter numbers will, of course, decrease. But with some of the more entertaining ties being shown on television over the Christmas period, the potential for supporters, who would normally go, but are persuaded not to by the poor weather, is high. They may choose to instead watch their non-league side from the warm comforts of their own home.
The impact of this on such clubs could be monumental. The newly promoted clubs, who may struggle financially, would face a decrease in numbers through the turnstiles. This would lead to a decrease in matchday programme sales, sale of food and drinks as well as other merchandise that are bought on game day.
BT Sports’ rights to TVNL, of course, bring positivity as the league gains increased coverage compared to previously. Fringe football supporters who perhaps were not aware of their local team could end up supporting the Club, while knowledge of Non League’s top tiers would be more widely known.
On the other hand, BT Sport’s agreement with The National League has led to a number of false truths. It was reported, at the time of BT Sport and TVNL signing an extension, that a new broadcasting company – called NLTV – would be formed. It was planned that this would run parrallel to the NLTV Broadcasting Academy, which would be suported by title sponsors Vanarama and BT Sport.
In 2015, Tony Kleanthous, Conference board director for broadcasting, said:
“NLTV’s aim is to launch a very affordable internet subscriber portal in 2016 where fans anywhere in the world can keep up to speed with what’s going on across the activities of all member clubs and everything which affects them, their players and even their fans.
“The NLTV daily show will include short clips, podcasts and updates from clubs around the country and our new digital platform will also feature highlights from every game every week so you never need miss the action.”
This promised NLTV is still yet to materialise, with us coming close to the conclusion of 2017. Instead, a League agreement with Pitchero has seen highlights from every match in Non League’s top two tiers uploaded to a central online portal – which is free to access.
With each club still offering their own – free to watch – highlights on their YouTube channels, is the BT Sport deal still worth it? In my opinion it’s a deal that has it’s benefits, but it’s negatives outweigh the positives.
Maybe in the future we’ll see a deal which will benefit the broadcasters, the League, its member clubs and supporters. But until then, we must wait.