Terry Duffelen
Thu 29 December 2011

Would losing the Football League Show be that bad?

Despite being on the cards since the new TV deal was announced in April, the mainstream media has used the recent scheduling controversy of the BBC’s Football League Show to declare that the programme may well be axed at the end of the season. This is on the basis that the BBC have not renewed their contract with the Football League and according to reports, have no intention of doing so.

First the early rounds of the FA Cup on ITV and now the Football League Show. It seems that lower league football is struggling to find a home on terrestrial TV in the UK. It is possible that with more imaginative scheduling and audience profiling, they may find the format and timeslot that will suit its core audience. However, it does appear that a significant portion of football fans who watch Match Of The Day on Saturday night change the channel when the Football League Show starts. You could blame the dominance of the Premier League, the late night scheduling of the programme or Steve Claridge. The fact remains that an existing football-heavy audience watches something else when the programme starts and that is not good.

It is also worth considering that the highlights have been up for grabs since the early part of 2011 and the other Free-To-Air commercial broadcasters seem uninterested. This suggests that they do not believe they can make it work or that the League are charging too much money. If that is the case then is it really in the interest of TV Licence payers to bid for the rights to something that commercial broadcasters don’t want? Before we all throw up our arms in outrage about the BBC’s decision, we should consider the fact that Football League is either too expensive or not as popular as we think it is or want it to be.

However, the Football Fairground is all about the silver linings and forever in search of the Utopian dream so with the prospect of no weekly highlights show for the Football League, the opportunity exists for the League to do something more interesting with their highlights. If the broadcast realm cannot find a home for them then surely the digital realm can. At the very least, the Football league should open a YouTube channel with free, extensive highlights available to all and sharable for all.

Imagine what top independent Football League sites like The Seventy Two, The Two Unfortunates and We Are Going Up could do if they could utilise this footage. If that seems a little fanciful then why not sell licences for footage to commercial football websites and have cut down free versions for non-commercial bloggers. The digital solution may not be a universal one (particularly for viewers in rural parts of the UK who have little or no broadband coverage) but it is surely a more interesting way of dispensing free highlights rather than waiting for terrestrial broadcasters to get round to showing them. In years to come there may be opportunities to develop applications for viewers to build their own highlight show, tailored to their own club and division. If the Football League cannot appeal to a mass audience then maybe the time has come to embrace its niche.

It will require investment and no doubt some delicate negotiations with Sky Sports who produce the coverage but if the Football League can’t find someone to pay for their free stuff then perhaps they should consider giving their stuff away for free.

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