Though supporters are still forbidden from engaging in matches, Stoke City is debating whether to live stream the Potters’ Championship fixtures at the bet365 Stadium.
With the 2020/21 EFL campaign forced to stay indefinitely behind closed doors, the league is making a deliberate effort to closely track and shut down any illicit streams that fans use on matchdays to follow their teams.
Angela Smith, Chairwoman of Stoke Fans’ Council, said: “The only match day revenue going into the club at the moment is through streaming and Stoke are very appreciative of those fans who are signing up.
“They’re looking at ways to get other income into the club and the only conceivable way of doing that at the moment is to get events happening, if permission is granted from the Sports Advisory Group.”
At their home grounds, fellow second-tier clubs Brentford, Middlesbrough, Millwall and Norwich have shown matches, offering supporters who purchased table service tickets and a meal while enjoying the game, as if they were watching in a bar.
In order to keep fans interested in their absence, Stoke, who had formulated a socially distanced scheme to allow supporters back to stadiums, floated the concept of virtual mascots and new matchday competitions.
“I had been optimistic that we could see fans back in by March but now I’m not so sure unless they get a handle on the way the virus is spreading,” Smith added. “So this would be a step forward, albeit a strange one. I think it is highly likely that a lot of clubs will open areas where 60 to 80 fans can go in and have a meal while the match is on.”
The pay-per – view plan of the Premier League has been met with criticism due to the strategy’s pricing and Smith reiterated that she acknowledges the uproar.
“I’m not naïve and we know that everybody in the world is trying to save money, particularly at the moment, and if there is an easy option of a cheap stream then it might be popular.
“But the official streams are a genuinely important way for clubs to raise money and the chances are that illegal streams will be very quickly taken down over the coming weeks and months.
“The Premier League and EFL are quickly realising the importance of protecting their product and their clubs.”