The Billericay Town media team in action on a lockdown game day
An Athens League clash between Barnet and Wealdstone in 1946 was the first football game to be televised live – and 75 years later the cameras are still rolling.
The BBC’s preliminary debut, showing 20 minutes of the first half and 35 minutes of the second half before it got too dark, paved the way for the global phenomenon that football is on TV now.
This way, millions of fans consume the game at the highest levels in the world, but coverage has remained largely sparse under the Football League. Sky, Setanta, Premier Sports and now BT Sport have all acquired the rights to showcase the top non-league league with varying degrees of success.
Reporting at these levels has developed massively over the past decade. The clubs are using technology and the rise of social media to reach a wider audience.
Most non-league clubs film their games and upload highlights to YouTube. Steps 1 and 2, however, faced a new challenge this season when it was confirmed that the games would be played behind closed doors.
Live streaming of fixtures was allowed – usually a no-go due to the 3pm Saturday blackout rule and conflicts with the BT Sports deal – and the clubs reached out to their media teams to step up. When Wealdstone came to The Hive for the first time since 2002, barnet’s new territory had become, watching games on the internet became a new way for fans to watch their squad, but not in front of a mountain of invisible work behind them Backdrops volunteers in the club.
“I think a lot of people had no idea how to do live streaming,” Billericay Town’s media director Ben Robinson told The NLP.
“But we pulled ourselves together to find out everything.” Some clubs asked professional broadcast and video production companies to produce their production.
“It’s important that we try to replicate the game experience as much as possible,” said Matt Hall, stadium announcer, club secretary and the face of Bromley’s excellent coverage.
“We knew this was going to be vital for us. It is one of the ways we can do this and overcome technical problems.
“BBC Surrey generously allows us to use their commentary but they are on the other side of the floor across from the portal which was a bit of a headache but we got that around.
“The clubs had little time to deal with streaming before the start of the season, which caused problems for many in the opening month and only paid back the sources of income that we have. The chairman was very supportive of us and wanted us to offer our supporters the best possible product so that they can get in touch with Advision TV. “
Bromley’s Stream is widely regarded as one of the best on the market, featuring multi-camera coverage, commentary, replay, graphics, a pre-game show, and live post-game interviews.
It has attracted numbers of up to 1,400 for games against Stockport County and Wrexham, not far from their average 2,000 viewers last season but still far from their usual earnings.
“We were overwhelmed with the support it received,” said Hall. “We try to be as neutral as possible, we not only take care of our fans, but also the away fans. We have also offered our older supporters some assistance with accessing the stream, trying to make things as simple as possible.
“The income from that is nowhere near as much as a matchday, but you have to make the most of a bad situation and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Other clubs have relied solely on the knowledge of their volunteers and their own equipment to broadcast matches.
Nick Shaw, head of media at Woking, oversees an excellent production with multiple cameras without the use of an outside company.
“The club was very supportive of us and got the equipment we needed for ourselves, even though we didn’t have much to get because we had a lot of camera equipment and laptops,” he said. “There were some long phone calls between myself and Michael Phillips trying to find out how to do this and how to overcome technical issues.
“BBC Surrey generously allows us to use their comment, but they are on the other side of the floor across from the portal, which was a bit of a headache, but we got that around.” The clubs had little time to deal with streaming before the start of the season, which caused problems for many in the opening month and refunds were offered at times.
A big problem was finding the right streaming partner to host the show online. “We used one for the first few games but it quickly turned out to be unreliable,” Shaw said. “If we’re all streaming at 3pm on a Saturday and other teams have the same problem, you’ll find that the streaming provider is to blame, not us.
“The first couple of games were pretty stressful, everyone on the team is a perfectionist, we want it to be just right, we don’t settle for a bodge job.” Lee Carpenter, co-owner of FCVideo with Julian Fox, a company that films out-of-league games for Boreham Wood, Maidenhead, Wealdstone, Slough Town, Hungerford Town, Farnborough and Hayes & Yeading, had the same problems.
“We reported on the CONIFA World Cup in London a few years ago and streamed games for them,” he said. “The logic is that it should be pretty simple, but we have a number of problems determining who to use.
“We’re branching out now and are a bit more ambitious with repetitions and things like that because we’re confident with the streaming providers. We come there. I remember we had particularly bad problems early on. Julian and I met in a parking lot in Tesco and almost threw it in.
“We persevered and worked through the problems and explained them to people in the hope that they would accept them. “We used to be scared earlier in the season, now we are confident that we can enjoy it and therefore produce a better product.”
There were also other issues that were beyond the control of the stream teams, such as fan internet speed.
“Once in our game against Dulwich, the power went out for about 20 minutes!” added Hungerford Town media man Ciaran Morrison. “We had a few problems with it. When it works, fans are pretty happy with what they see. We’re trying to make some money out of it. We charge £ 5.50 which is a little less than some others. “
The expertise of volunteers has become particularly useful at Billericay. “We have a really good IT guy, Richard Ingham,” said Ricays Robinson. “He created his own website to make streaming easier. Currently we only pay a PayPal transaction fee.
“Then we have Chris Munford and Leigh Bailey in the comment and they do everything voluntarily with their own equipment. It’s a great team. “For the immediate future at least, streaming will be the only way fans can watch their squad, but it has already sparked a debate about whether to continue once the crowd returns. “I think there is a place for it, obviously the main hurdle is the 3pm blackout window,” Shaw said.
“For our game against Hartlepool, it was one of our highest numbers when fans were allowed in because many of their fans saw it. “The games, which are far away for the away team, are likely to be very helpful when streamed when you can watch your team across the country from the comfort of your living room instead of spending five hours in a coach.”
Carpenter added, “There are people overseas who support clubs and I know that some clubs had previously tried to talk to the National League about if we could do something for the offshore people.
“You will also find people for some time who are uncomfortable when they come back to watch football. I think there is a smaller market out there trying to provide service to these fans. “
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