As the calendar year comes to a close, take a look back at some of the ‘firsts’ that have occurred in the EFL in 2018.
It has been a breakthrough year for the EFL and one of its latest innovations, iFollow.
Following a successful introduction in 2017/18 for supporters based overseas, EFL Clubs were given the ability to provide the OTT service to fans in the UK and Ireland from the start of the 2018/19 campaign as a result of the recent £595million rights agreement signed with Sky Sports.
The deal officially begins in 2019/20, but some opportunities, such as domestic streaming have been brought forward a year, meaning supporters at home and abroad can watch select EFL matches live.
For domestic fans, this means matches that fall outside the provisions of UEFA’s Article 48, which bans the broadcast of live football between 2.45pm and 5.15pm, have been made available, with enhancements and improved productions values providing Clubs with the scope to introduce bespoke commentary as well as on-screen graphics for midweek matches.
The option is proving popular, with more than 500,000 video and audio streams being shared on iFollow since August 2018.
The year of 2018 also signified a ground-breaking partnership with mental health charity, Mind.
To mark the start of the two-year link-up, the 2018/19 season introduced, for the first-ever time in English football, a new lettering design which incorporates the charity’s logo into the player name on the back of every EFL shirt across all 72 clubs in the Sky Bet Championship, Sky Bet League One and Sky Bet League Two.
The squiggle part of Mind’s logo continues to be joined into the first letter of the player name – with the player’s name replacing the word Mind – in a unique design to celebrate the partnership and raise awareness.
The partnership, which has the strapline ‘On your Side’ focuses on: raising awareness about mental health with fans, clubs and staff, raising funds to deliver life-changing support, and improving the approach to mental health in the EFL, in football and in wider society.
Stand Up For Choice
Earlier this year, the EFL launched a new fan-focused campaign entitled ‘Stand up for Choice’, to fully understand the views of fans of EFL Clubs on the issue of standing in stadiums.
A key feature of the campaign was a fan survey which attracted over 33,000 responses, with a clear consensus of 94% of supporters believing they should have the option to choose the type of matchday experience they want – whether that be seated or standing in safe, licensed areas of grounds.
- Over two-thirds (69%) of responders indicated that they would prefer to stand, compared to less than a quarter (22%) who claimed a preference for seating;
- Nearly half (47%) of all fans said they would attend more games if licensed standing was available;
- With stadium occupancy at 61% in 2017/18, a change in legislation could also provide an opportunity to increase revenue from gate receipts.
The findings were used to inform a Westminster Hall debate in June, with MPs and the then Sports Minister Tracy Crouch discussing the issue in depth before calling for a further evidence gathering review session to take place over the the latter half of 2018. That review session is ongoing with further detail anticipated early in 2019.
In the meantime, Sky Bet League One side Shrewsbury Town became the first English Club to introduce rail seating to their Montgomery Waters Meadow Stadium ahead of the 2018/19 season. With help from a crowdfunding page set up by their own supporters, the Club managed to raise £65,000 to turn their vision into reality, while Wycombe Wanderers officially opened their new 2020 seating, which provides Chairboys fans with the choice to sit or stand at Adams Park, on Saturday 22 December.
The EFL has been clear that it would like to see current legislation reviewed by the Government and ultimately amended so that EFL Clubs have the opportunity to provide standing accommodation to their supporters at all matches played in the Championship, League One and League Two, should they wish to.
Lincoln City’s Checkatrade Trophy victory
It has been a year to remember for Lincoln City in more ways than one as they reached the Semi-Finals of the Sky Bet League Two Play-Offs in their first season back in the EFL.
However, their most important achievement of 2018 will undoubtedly be their Checkatrade Trophy win at Wembley against Shrewsbury Town in April.
The triumph was the Imps’ first in the competition in their first ever visit to Wembley Stadium in the Club’s 133-year history, as they lifted the trophy following a showpiece final in front of 41,261 supporters at the home of English football.
Elliott Whitehouse scored the only goal of the game to give Danny Cowley’s side the win over the League One Shrews.
VAR introduced into the EFL Cup
Ten days into the New Year, the much-anticipated Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system was introduced into the EFL Cup, making its debut in a Semi-Final clash between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge, which ended in a goalless draw.
Both legs of the Semi-Final included the use of VAR alongside the Final at Wembley on Sunday 25 February after the League committed to support English football’s contribution to the trial taking place across world football.
Since its successful trial in English football and throughout the world, most notably at the 2018 World Cup, VAR has been rolled out successfully in the footballing world, with even more games in the EFL Cup having VAR in place.
Next year will see the English game move to the next level, with every Premier League fixture set to host the VAR system, following its successful trail in 2018.