It was brilliant to see Latics win under the floodlights on Tuesday night against Hull City and move up to fourth in the Championship table. It was an entertaining game with both teams going all out for the three points. The only disappointment was the attendance of 8,848 with 418 away supporters.
It was perhaps not surprising that the attendance was so low given that Championship games are now available to view on the clubs ifollow platform and the Sky red button and mobile app.
Midweek attendances in the Championship will inevitably be affected as fans can pay a one-off fee of £10 per game to watch their team rather than attend the game.
The number of Latics’ fans attending was certainly down on Tuesday night and those attending from Hull was fewer than would previously have been expected.
Last season the English Football League (EFL) launched its subscription package, ifollow. For £110 a season it allowed non-domestic residents to watch English Football League matches live.
This season the service was extended to domestic residents, offering the chance to stream live matches that fell outside the 3pm blackout times following a new broadcast agreement with Sky.
These services are good for fans who can’t make the game due to work, or other commitments or who live abroad but it has surely deterred many fans from attending the live game as they can now watch the game cheaply from the comfort of their own homes.
Sky and the EFL are financially compensating the football league clubs, but in the long run it will surely be creating a group of supporters who stop attending live games and become armchair supporters.
Latics’ home game tonight against Bristol City will be broadcast live on Sky and this will no doubt have a detrimental effect on the attendance and the atmosphere in the stadium.
It is probably only a matter of time before the Saturday 3pm blackout time disappears for all English clubs. During the recent international weekend the EFL streamed 3pm kick offs on their ifollow platform for L1 and L2 teams to domestic customers for the first time.
There is much talk of “growing the game” “increasing participation” and ensuring future generations engage with live football, but when the cheapest option is to watch from home then many will choose not to attend the live games.
Supporting your local team is increasingly the harder option and it should be crucial for the clubs to try to maintain a close connection with the local community.
Latics make great efforts to engage with the community but if supporters can no longer be bothered to go to the games, it will be much easier for them to switch allegiances to one of the bigger more successful clubs.
We are in danger of creating a generation of fans who choose convenience over feeling the exhilaration of celebrating in the stands or on the terraces when their team scores.
The live football experience is something unique: the proximity to the action, the crowd noise, the highs and the lows. The special camaraderie with your friends is impossible to replicate in your own home.
For a fan like myself nothing can beat the live experience nor would it stop me from attending the games but there may be future generations who will face the prospect of watching matches from their homes with empty stadiums.