The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) in the Republic of Ireland teamed up with Sportradar to launch a new over-the-top platform, LOITV.ie, in June 2021. Mark Scanlon, the FAI’s League of Ireland Director, explains how a game-changing streaming service was launched in a matter of weeks, and what lies in store in the future.
Owing to COVID-19 and fan numbers being restricted in stadiums, a decision was taken to launch a streaming service via our broadcast partner in 2020. However, we wanted to take full control of this offering in 2021 and expand the service to include the League of Ireland First Division and the Women’s National League along with our Premier Division games previously available.
A quick decision was made to switch to a new over-the-top (OTT) streaming provider who could offer a solution that could reliably stream matches from all three Leagues. When we reached out to colleagues, connections and Leagues in other jurisdictions whom we had identified as offering impressive streaming platforms, Sportradar became the clear provider of choice for the League of Ireland and the Women’s National League.
Time was of the essence as we required a new platform to launch at the beginning of June. Thankfully, Sportradar offers template solutions that are tried-and-tested and can be adapted, and their vast experience was a major help in ironing out any early issues. There were two key priorities from our side: reliability and functionality for viewers.
When the LOITV service launched last year, we offered a Premier Division pass covering all games for €79, and a First Division pass for €49. The Women’s National League coverage was free to air while pay-per-view games across the Premier and First Divisions were priced at €5 per match.
As regards audience and subscription numbers, it is difficult to compare on a like-for-like basis with other years as restrictions eased in the middle of 2021, allowing fans back into stadiums. As I write, it remains a very uncertain landscape in terms of Covid-19, which is why it is so important to have a reliable platform in place.
There were always going to be challenges, especially given the planned timing of the launch. From confirming to Sportradar that we would like them to work on the project, we only had four or five weeks until the launch date. So we were delighted when the platform was established in this short period of time and during peak months of the season in terms of fan interest.
Because of the changeover from the previous season, we had to transfer subscribers from the old platform over to the new one. Overall, we were quite happy with this process with minimal disruption to existing customers.
A few relatively minor issues were ironed out in the first few weeks of the platform going live, but these often were on the production side and largely went unnoticed by any subscribers. To Sportradar’s credit, the project was delivered early in order to allow for some testing with the different third-party production teams before the launch, and that helped to make things as smooth as possible.
Throughout the season, there was nothing to question the viability of the platform and fewer and fewer issues arose as the weeks went on.
The platform also hosted early-season European competition fixtures – which the clubs themselves have rights for. All four of our teams in European action chose our platform, delivered by Sportradar, which gave them great reassurance and offered reliability during a busy period for these clubs.
Coverage of FAI youth competitions were also broadcast on the platform in October and November, and that generated really encouraging viewing figures.
Streaming has already changed the match experience for our fans, and there is a huge opportunity through the platform to create and present our own content, rather than rely solely on external broadcasters.
“…the platform delivers significant benefits for our profile and the exposure of our Leagues and clubs. For example, the free OTT coverage of the Women’s National League represented a massive step forward and certainly helped the FAI to secure a linear TV rights deal…”
There has been a massive improvement in terms of both reliability and functionality. The clubs and fans are happy with how things have gone, and we receive regular reports from Sportradar to enable us to reflect internally.
In the future we would like to develop the offering into a broader multimedia platform. We are going to look at ways to make it easier for customers to stream via smart TVs, and developing an app is also something we are discussing. There are other changes that can be considered, like the ability to create dedicated landing pages for our clubs.
We are hopeful of strong viewer numbers once the COVID-19 pandemic eases and more and more people opt to watch sport events live in the stadiums again. In fact, we have heard of people who even visit our platform, while they are in the stadium, to follow other matches which are played simultaneously. Streaming is here to stay, and it is an important building block in our pursuit to give fans of our teams what they want. This platform also offers us an opportunity to connect with the Irish diaspora worldwide as we have seen in the sign-ups so far. That is something for us to build on and we also believe we can tap into a younger audience.
Our calendar means we are looking to attract passive fans in the summer months, when other domestic football competitions across Europe are in the off-season, and more broadly, the platform delivers significant benefits for our profile and the exposure of our Leagues and clubs.
For example, the free OTT coverage of the Women’s National League represented a massive step forward and certainly helped the FAI to secure a linear TV rights deal for the competition towards the end of the season, and we are hopeful of further linear coverage as a result this year. Above all, LOITV.ie is a simple, functional platform that works and that gives us peace of mind on match nights as we can have as many as 10 games taking place simultaneously on Fridays.
We are not technology experts, but we trust Sportradar. The team and account managers we have dealt with there have been fantastic to work with – they are patient with our requests and attentive and that really makes a huge difference.