Small-Mindedness Versus The American Stream

There is absolutely no good reason to stop Wrexham from streaming games domestically and internationally, which is exactly why it should come as no surprise that the National League rejected our application to do so out of hand last week.

The National League’s decision-making process is obscure, opaque and obtuse. The only guarantee is that, if something is obviously a good idea, they won’t approve it. Sometimes I think it’s some sort of insecurity from them. I used to have a boss who would always reject other people’s ideas; the trick was to suggest something in a way where he could join up the final dots himself and think it was his idea. Then he was all for it.

A club that threatens to have original ideas, act on its own initiative or, heaven forbid, act like it’s the Twenty-First Century, is always going to come up against a brick wall when it asks the National League for permission.

Ironically, if we’d just gone ahead and streamed games, there probably would have been no problem: surely the National League board members don’t have a strong grasp of what’s going on in the world, and would never find out what we were up to!

Another board meeting begins.

We’ve been promised that next week’s National League board meeting will include the discussion of a centralised streaming service for the entire league.

I honestly don’t know where to begin explaining how angry I am at that.

Perhaps I should begin by pointing out that the blatant self-interest reflected in this announcement. Do they think that if they set up a centralised streaming system, they’ll get to take for themselves a chunk of the revenue Wrexham generate. What other explanation could there be for them to suddenly pursue streaming, and deny us the opportunity?

And let’s get one thing straight. The National League think they’re capable of getting an efficient streaming service off the ground, sending camera crews to 36 different grounds for every round of matches, and incorporating a secure online payment system, in double-quick time? One which will deal with the deluge of interest from Wrexham fans all over the world? Really?

Perhaps they should pay attention to the words of a genuine advocate of small clubs’ interests. Last week, before our match at Dorking, their manager Marc White spoke with passion and clarity about the mean-spiritedness of those who are jealous of what is happening at Wrexham and attempt to criticise our owners. He pointed out that their motivation for getting involved with Wrexham is a sincere desire to make a positive contribution to a sports team and its local community, and condemned those who take pot-shots at them.

Be in no doubt who’s actually looking at the interests of the majority here. In a memo he sent to all National League clubs last week, Shaun Harvey explained that Wrexham wished to go ahead with streaming until the central platform was established, intended to make international streaming free to fans located outside the UK, and would put all profits from domestic streaming into a central pot, to be shared between all 72 clubs. Everyone benefits. The answer, of course, was still no.

In 2014, I went to Barnet to represent Wrexham at a two-day National League event which would lay out their approach to online video. Their vision was actually the vision of Tony Kleanthous, who coincidentally was, and still is, Barnet’s owner!

His plan was to have a video platform for the whole division. Clubs were told it was their own responsibility to record match footage, but they could not use any of it. It had to be passed to this central platform, which would publish highlights. Profits would be shared, so Barnet (average attendance in 2014: 1,705) would get to benefit from the popularity of clubs whose average attendances were literally twice as large. Funnily enough, we fitted into that category.

Of course, such remarkable decision-making is not unusual. In October 2020 the National Lottery money set aside for the National League for COVID relief was distributed equally among clubs according to their division, even though it was expressly intended to be compensation for lost match day revenues.

That meant Boreham Wood, who had the lowest average attendance the season before (724), Dover Athletic, whose average was 1,104, and Barnet, whose typical crowds of 1,214 were the fourth lowest in the division, received the same compensation for playing behind closed doors as Notts County, Stockport and Wrexham. All those clubs averaged in excess of 4,000!

Boreham Wood, Barnet and Dover, by the way, were all represented on the National League board at the time, leading Maidstone’s chairman to claim the board had acted like a “village committee organising a knees-up”, and claiming seven of the eight clubs represented on the board had profited disproportionately from their decision.

The whole brouhaha eventually led to a vote of no confidence in the board.

The clubs at Barnet in 2014 were told that, until the National League streaming platform went live, we would be allowed to post highlights on YouTube. Eight years later, we’re still waiting for the platform to launch, but apparently they’ll get something efficient sorted in no time this season!

A glance at the league’s official website shows how dramatically they’ll have to raise their game to get this platform off the ground. Well-maintained and engaging it ain’t!

The contacts page on their website has one email address, and nothing else. I can’t find any mention of who the members of their board are.

Their page of videos features just four teams, all from the regional level below us: Brackley, Boston, Dulwich Hamlet and Banbury. Furthermore, they’re all embeds from the clubs’ YouTube channels with no context except the thumbnails and descriptions attached to the videos. I had to search for a while to work out what teams were involved! If you asked me to sum the whole website up in a phrase, I’d plump for “Might earn a C grade if it was a GCSE I.T. project.”

Does this sound like a media-savvy set-up which will hit the streaming business running?

In a week when a National League match was marred by the despicable sound of racist abuse, and another game ended with one of the players being allegedly assaulted in the car park by an opponent, the competition’s organisers have decided to focus on thwarting a club’s attempts to provide a service to its fans and share the profits around the league, while shoehorning in a doomed attempt to make money out of those supporters for themselves.

They might think we’ve a big time attitude: well, in comparison to such small-minded attitudes, I’m very proud that we’re looking upwards and hoping to leave behind a league of fine clubs which is led by an embarrassing handful of self-interested individuals.

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