The National League has announced plans to launch a streaming platform to show matches, starting later in December. A soft launch will take place on 10 December, with a full launch two weeks later for the Christmas programme.
Only national division sides will be included in the first phase of the launch, covering the second half of the season.
BT Sport has held broadcasting rights to the National League since 2013, with the current deal running until 2024, and will for the first time ever broadcast National League North & South matches live across the nation with the Kidderminster against Chester clash selected for Wednesday, 6 December.
Pilots will be run with National League North and National League South clubs during the second half of the season, with a view to ensuring that games for the two divisions can be streamed for the 2023-24 season.
Whether this means every single National League match will be streamed live, or only midweek fixtures will be made available has yet to be announced. Under current FIFA regulations a football broadcast ‘blackout’ exists on Saturday afternoons between 2:45pm and 5:15pm. Games may be played on that day and on that time, but they are forbidden to be televised – with Saturday televised kick-offs mostly occurring at 12:30pm or 5:30pm.
“A huge amount of work has been ongoing behind the scenes,” said a National League statement.
“The National League would again like to reiterate its commitment to providing a quality streaming platform that benefits all 72 member clubs.”
In September, Wrexham’s co-owner Ryan Reynolds criticised the National League ban on clubs streaming games, describing it as “truly baffling”.
He said it deprived “every team in our league the chance to expand the fanbase while adding to league revenue [which] benefits everyone”.
Competition sponsors Vanarama responded to Reynolds on social media, saying they “are in favour of live streaming as long as it benefits all clubs in the league and is what the fans want”.
The National League added that they were in advanced discussions about the introduction of a streaming service.
Following a board meeting on 15 September, the National League said their ambition was to have a “fully functioning platform launch in the second half of the season”.
The league said they had been “working closely” with BT Sport, who also held streaming rights, “to secure an agreement whereby non-televised matches could be streamed on a league platform”, adding that their broadcast partners had been “incredibly supportive in this vision”.
It is as yet unclear as to whether clubs can select their own broadcast partners to televise home games, or whether a fully-fledged streaming service will be rolled out across the UK.
National League North clubs such as Hereford and Darlington have in the past used the services of CJP Broadcast Service Solutions from Ross-on-Wye.
Many clubs doubt that revenues generated will outstrip the service costs. and are concerned about the adverse effect streaming matches may have on home attendances.