- National League covers top divisions in semi-professional English soccer
- Broadcast partner BT Sport has rights until 2023/24
The National League will launch its long-awaited streaming platform for the semi-professional fifth and sixth tiers of English club soccer later this month, allowing clubs to broadcast live matches to fans both domestically and internationally.
A soft launch of the direct-to-consumer (DTC) service will take place on 10th December, ahead of a full rollout in time for the traditional Christmas programme for National Division clubs. Further tests will be held with North and South clubs in the coming months.
The arrival of the platform follows criticism earlier this season from Ryan Reynolds, the Wrexham co-owner and Hollywood actor, over the league’s refusal to allow clubs to live stream matches.
Meanwhile fans and other clubs have been eager for a similar system to the English Football League’s (EFL) iFollow platform, which allows clubs to stream matches not selected for national coverage by Sky Sports.
The National League has reached a similar arrangement with its own partner BT Sport, which has broadcast the competition since 2013, while also working to identify how revenue will be distributed between the clubs.
‘A huge amount of work has been ongoing behind-the-scenes with the League now in a position to announce a soft launch … with a full launch two weeks later,’ the National League said in a statement.
‘The first phase of the launch will see streaming introduced for National Division clubs only while the League works with North and South clubs running pilot events in the second half of the season to ensure logistically it can be delivered for North and South Divisions for the 2023/24 season.
‘The National League would again like to reiterate its commitment to providing a quality streaming platform that benefits all 72 Member Clubs.
‘Thanks must go to BT Sport and title sponsors Vanarama for their continued support.’
While the eyes of the soccer world are in Qatar for the 2022 Fifa World Cup, English soccer is laying the foundation for a broadcast revolution.
The English Football League (EFL) has temporarily suspended the 3pm blackout for the duration of the competition at a time when it has admitted it could support its abolition entirely in its next rights cycle.
This could have huge implications for the Premier League, which could be tempted to make all of its matches available for broadcast, and non-league sides who would be free to unlock new revenue streams and widen their reach.
The launch of a National League streaming platform might prove contentious among those who fear it will impact attendances or give clubs with a larger fanbase an unfair advantage. However, it also means that in the space of just a few years it might be possible to watch any game from England’s top six tiers live and legally – a situation unthinkable even just a few seasons ago.