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EFL Rules are restrictive to the fan experience

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The EFL rules are stopping fan-made content from thriving - that’s not right.

Tottenham Hotspur v Aston Villa - The Emirates FA Cup Third Round Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Earlier today Aston Villa fan channel The Villa View announced that they were no longer working to produce ‘Away Day’ videos, where the trip to a Football League Stadium is recorded as a montage to showcase the experience of away matches.

This morning we were made aware that our ‘Match Day Experience’ videos were a breach of the EFL rules. With this, our most recent video from the victory away at Wigan has been removed from our YouTube channel. We’re disappointed to say that there will be no more ‘Match Day Experience’ videos on our channel.

While it should be noted that the EFL didn’t go boots on the ground here and kick in the door to Villa View towers surprising TVV’s Matt Lynch, Dan Rolinson and Dan Bardell mid-discussion show (or tea break), it’s still fairly harsh that the rulings exist in the first place.

The EFL broadcast laws are grounded in the nature of ‘protecting the game’. The big daddy of broadcast laws is obviously the ‘don’t you damn dare show a football game at 3pm’ law, but they are still rather complex and locked down so solidly that removing one law wouldn’t really change much. The basis of it all? Don’t record anything because someone is paying for this and you aren’t. Don’t take a photograph because people are paying for the permission. Don’t record a damn thing because we can make money from licenses.

Now, the dripping sarcasm should be clear - the EFL laws exist to stop the piration of the game by companies who would look to make money from the English game. Money that in some circumstances would end up in some quite dodgy hands. While the EFL should punish those who seek to profit at their expense, it’s quite unlikely that illegal activities and money laundering are encircling fan channels like The Villa View, Away Days and Talk Norwich City and being funded from the revenues that YouTube provides to these channels.

I reached out to Dan Rolinson of The Villa View who had this to say:

I can certainly understand why the EFL rules are in place, but that doesn't mean I agree with them. I think the EFL would do better by working with 'fan channels' and supporting fan driven content, rather than trying to stop it. I have to say I'm disappointed that a strand of our video content has to stop, but hopefully that won't be a permanent decision. We'll continue to create content for The Villa View as best we can and hope that those who support the channel continue to do so as we try to experiment with new ideas and keep creating YouTube videos.

To an extent, a clampdown on fan-made visual content could be understood if highlights streams were ripped in full - without audible or visual narration - and simply placed on channel in the view that it was original content of the channel and thus plagiarism. From my following of The Villa View, Talk Norwich City and Away Days - it’s clear that those channels do not have an interest in ripping the content of the league away from innocent paws, but in fact filming their own experiences of the football grounds they visit.

The EFL rules are quite restrictive on the fan experience, and quite literal when we focus on the fact that match day videos are breaking EFL rules - but something has to be said about the isolation of the EFL as a product. The Premier League brand has shot into the stratosphere over the past five years - the icons, the branding, the ball and the players. It’s a TV serial with drama that can’t be matched and narratives that evolve over the course of a season. Everyone is tuned in - Netflix couldn’t script content as good as this - or pay for it. The EFL is slightly different - the Premier League has a lot of neutral support and a lot of views coming in from overseas. It’s a seriously fantastic product that gives fans everything they want from a season - especially the neutrals - drama, suspense, action and even a bit of romance when fans take their love of a player or manager to cultish levels. That can’t really be said about the EFL where the only people with a stake in it are the fans and those who just love football. Globalisation is seen by many as something that may have a dagger in the back of English football and while I don’t feel qualified to take on that argument just yet, globalisation has given us more access than ever to the game we love. If I want to watch an MLS game, I can - it’s hilariously easy! I can follow Orlando City Soccer Club and their safe standing pyro areas from afar. What I can’t do, is follow the team that I grew up with from afar. I see Villa Park almost every working day, yet I can’t see it on matchday without my season ticket or unless the broadcaster has chosen an Aston Villa match to be broadcast on TV and syndicated around the world. That’s insane! I can watch Orlando City whenever I want, but I can’t watch Aston Villa - do you see the irony? The only thing allowing people from overseas, or 7500 miles away from a football ground is the arbitrary decisions of a broadcaster thumbing through a fixture list and lazily choosing which game it wants to display.

Which is where we come back to the fan channels and match day experiences. These videos can’t give people access to the game, but they can give access to something a bit more valuable - the experience of being a fan. This is invaluable not only to overseas fans, but fans who can’t go to games due to commitments, money or even because of accessibility issues. I love watching videos of games I don’t go to - and not even the highlight reels, because goals aren’t the be all and end all of the sport - but because of the fact that I can feel like I was there when I wasn’t. It makes me feel like part of the community that I subscribe to with my season ticket. I wonder how it makes my overseas counterparts feel? These experience videos do something for clubs that is invaluable - they can create new fans. People from New Zealand, Mongolia or The Gambia can get a glimpse of something they won’t easily be able to physically view. They are graced with the feelings of a game - something that they can’t access. You create fans thanks to those experiences an an overseas fanbase is becoming quite essential to the modern football club. Video and visuals enhance the experience for overseas fans, as well as domestic fans who cannot attend.

To put it simply, the impact of fan-made video content has never been more important and now, when the time is right for the boom, the EFL (and other football leagues, it should be added) don’t seem to be lifting restrictions on fan-made content.

On the other side of this is something a bit more worrying. Fan-made content is booming and while the goal for many isn’t to make money - it’s a fantastic feeling to know that you have made your own career from your creativity - especially so when it’s also surrounding your passions! Restricting match day opportunities for content is a strange move, considering the prevalence of established writers who are paid by gambling sites - while that’s still a honest buck, you wouldn’t want to think that it is sites like Paddy Power and Unibet that will bring through the next football content creators. No offence of course to those who do write for gambling sites, money is money! It just seems strange that the EFL stifle opportunities for content creators in honest arenas while doing seemingly nothing about the gambling websites that lead so many into financial woes - flanked by articles hosted on their sites. Of course, this doesn’t damn channels like The Villa View to death - but it’s incredible to think that it is gambling website that are flying the banner for content and journalism, not the fan channels that are stifled by league rulings.

This doesn’t mark the end of The Villa View and other fan channels, but it is upsetting to see a form of censorship that acts not to protect, but to sever - and it has cut a limb from The Villa View and other fan channels that have seen success from the quality of their matchday experience videos. It is strange to see the EFL shrink away from fan-made content instead and I can only agree with Mr. Rolinson - the EFL could do more to incubate natural content from fans than artificially construct their own content that nobody cares about and nobody has a connection to.