Irish League fans could have the opportunity to watch their clubs through a pay-per-view service - if they are unable to attend games due to Covid-19 restrictions, it has been suggested.
The Danske Bank Premiership is due to kick off on October 17 and clubs have been working to make sure they can get supporters back into the stadiums in a limited capacity.
Concerns have grown that games may have to be played behind closed doors after the Executive announced tighter Covid-19 restrictions on Monday.
Many clubs have been broadcasting their pre-season friendlies live on their social media channels free of charge to allow fans who cannot attend to get a taste of the action.
Glentoran's recent friendly against Portadown saw 8,500 tune in and Oval chairman Stephen Henderson certainly believes there is an appetite for Irish League pay-per-view.
He explained that, in an ideal scenario, every club would broadcast its own home game online and keep all the funds raised to help alleviate some of the financial pressures during the Covid-19 crisis.
The Northern Ireland Football League's current television deal sees the BBC broadcast 10 live games on BBC Two NI throughout the season, while Sky Sports holds the rights to five fixtures.
Those televised encounters would be automatically ruled out of the pay-per-view system but leaves the opportunity for clubs to take advantage of those which are not broadcast.
The average Irish League entrance fee for an adult ranges from £10 to £12 but Henderson said watching a game online would cost considerably less.
Henderson said: “Under the current restrictions and crowds being limited, or indeed should things progress with no crowds being allowed at all, the only way that Irish League football is going to survive from a financial viability perspective is to attempt to reach out to our supporters.
“Pay-per-view and live streaming of games online behind a paywall would appear to offer an opportunity for us to connect to those fans who can’t attend in person and also to reach out beyond the normal catchment we would have for local fixtures as well.
“Our pre-season friendly against Portadown a couple of weeks ago attracted over 8,500 unique visitors. I’m not suggesting those 8,500 stayed and watched the game from the first to the 90th minute but we have the statistics to show that for a pre-season friendly, albeit with a limited attendance, 8,500 people viewed that live stream. We believe there is an appetite for that.”
It is hoped that Glentoran will have their pay-per-view system in place come the start of the season unless an attractive television deal was offered to all clubs.
Henderson did admit, however, that setting up pay-per-view is not as simple as it sounds.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to go on in the background to facilitate this and make it a possibility,” he said. “You clearly wouldn’t be charging the same fee if you turn up in person and go through the gate but nevertheless we believe that the appetite is there.
“If it’s priced attractively it could be something that won’t compensate clubs for the loss of gate receipts but it will go some way to alleviating the issues caused by that.”
Meanwhile, the Irish FA claimed victory in their legal battle with Donaghadee FC yesterday. Donaghadee FC, managed by Jamie Bryson, questioned the ‘sporting integrity’ of the Amateur League’s decision to void their season.
The IFA Appeals Committee’s code of conduct and the independence of the Appeals Committee were also challenged.
The long running dispute was settled by Sport Resolutions, with the extensive verdict published on the Association’s website.
The IFA noted the conclusion reached that: “All the applicant DFC’s (Donaghadee FC) claims for relief are dismissed.”