As the Sky Bet Championship prepares to make a return following the World Cup break, EFL chief executive Trevor Birch feels the recent experiment of a first ‘Innovation Game’ can only have helped showcase the league’s unique selling point.
Coverage of Wycombe’s League One win over Portsmouth on December 4 included additional features such as on-pitch audio, dressing-room footage and other behind-the-scenes access like exclusive interviews and club personnel on co-commentary duties.
The EFL is currently considering the future direction of its broadcasting.
In October, the EFL issued a Request For Proposal (RFP), inviting interested broadcasters and media companies to come forward and suggest new ways of presenting the league on television and streaming platforms from the 2024-25 season, once its current deal with Sky Sports expires.
The results are being analysed and come against a background of the EFL’s growing fanbase.
More than 550,000 season tickets have been sold this season, the highest total from any EFL campaign in the past 22 years, with an increase across all three divisions, while junior season-ticket sales are up by 29 per cent.
As the Championship took a break during the World Cup, the focus on domestic football was centred around the two lower tiers.
Birch believes that presented an opportunity to think outside the box in terms of what future viewing experiences might look like.
“It added a bit more of an interest to the whole day and gave people a better perspective of what happens on a match day,” Birch told the PA news agency.
“Particularly it was things like the little cameo with the referees, seeing the managers before the game, the cameras in the dressing room, and then the on-pitch interviews. I just thought it brought it alive.
“Even though it wasn’t comprehensive in terms of what you might be able to do, it certainly showed the potential of how telling a bit of a story around the game, around the club, can certainly enhance the viewing of the game.
“We have seen from many of these Netflix series that if you put a narrative around the club, it definitely generates greater interest. It is an additive to the experience of attending games.
“We were experimenting. We are obviously out there at the moment with our Request For Proposal and basically saying, ‘Look, what would you do to make life interesting for us going forward?
“Under the current contract, we probably can’t do too much more than that because it does actually take time, effort and cost to put something on like that.
“I suspect there won’t be too many more (before the end of 2023-24), but it was an example of what you could do with a game if you were to apply a little bit more impetus to it.”
As part of finding solutions which cater for changing viewer habits, lifting the Saturday 3pm screening blackout is one option the EFL could consider in the future.
Under Article 48 of UEFA regulations, domestic associations are allowed to impose a broadcasting block which is designed to protect live attendance at matches throughout the football pyramid, although it was temporarily lifted during the coronavirus pandemic.
However, Birch stressed: “To be honest, it is too early to add too much colour around that (future plans). We are assessing what we have received and deciding what the next stage of that proposal will be.”
The Championship is the third most attended division in Europe, behind only the Premier League and the Bundesliga.
It remains to be seen just what impact a mid-season break will have on the final outcome at both ends of the table, but Birch feels that makes the competition all the more compelling.
“You could say it is the unknown of the Championship, that every weekend, there is a shock, which is the wonderful thing about the Championship – the unpredictability of it all,” Birch said.
“So when you add in another dynamic to it (the World Cup break) which we have never experienced before, clubs are all on a mini pre-season again. It is going to be fascinating to watch how they cope with it.
“But one thing is for sure – the excitement will still be there. The number of Championship games I go to see with all the twists and turns, that never ceases to amaze me or the quality of it all.”