Supporting a league you cannot watch: the drawbacks of Ekstraklasa.TV

“Now we have decided that it’s time to take the next step, and in response to the changing media consumption we want to develop our own channels. We will commercialize the content we produce, just as the biggest sports organizations in the world do: NBA, UEFA or La Liga”.
Marcin Animucki; President of the Board, Ekstraklasa S.A.

On 4th July, the Ekstraklasa issued a statement in regards to its television coverage for the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons. Tucked away, beneath details of a new service which allows Polish fans access to short, 20-second clips of key highlights during games and full highlights available within ten minutes of the full-time whistle, just a short, vague statement about its plans for viewers outside of Poland:

“As a result, all matches of PKO Ekstraklasa will be available for the first time from the next season all over the world, excluding Poland, as part of its own paid video-streaming service. It is addressed to all fans of the Polish league abroad, and in particular to nearly 20 million Polonia.”

For the past four years, fans outside of Poland have been able to follow Ekstraklasa football via the league’s official page on video streaming service DailyMotion. The free service has attracted several million viewers, making it one of, if not the most, easily accessible leagues in the world. With a reported 21 million Polish diaspora across the globe, not to mention the loyal foreign fan base which the Ekstraklasa has begun to attract, this service has been regarded as a wondrous thing.

Unfortunately, it is also a very easy platform to abuse, with the league’s Polish broadcaster, nc+, reportedly frustrated that viewers in Poland may be able to access the free streams via the use of a VPN, rather than subscribe to their networks. Largely for that reason, for the 2019/20 season, there will be no live stream on DailyMotion.

In its place, the Ekstraklasa’s announcement that they will be moving to a paid subscription service for viewers outside of Polish borders has been met with mixed reactions. For many, the ease of access to the DailyMotion streams were what drew them to the Polish league; but, now forced to pay to watch content, there is a big possibility that they will simply drift away. Some, however, see the move as a logical step for a league which is, commercially, some way behind those which it aspires to compete with.

It makes sense; to give such content away for free – especially something as well-produced as the broadcasts run by the league’s own subsidiary, Ekstraklasa Live Park – defies most business logic. Having invested heavily in its use of data, statistics and graphics, there is an understandable will to see more financial return for both themselves and the clubs. The logic also sees that, even if one single viewer pays for a subscription, the league itself will be earning more złotys than its current model.

Perhaps the biggest worry is that the Ekstraklasa is not big enough in stature to sustain such a model. While leagues such as the Premier League and the Bundesliga can attract vast numbers of viewers from around the globe, there are doubts whether the Polish league can attract even a fraction of the numbers that the bigger leagues can. Whilst the Polish-language broadcasts will be fine for the many Polonia located on faraway shores, more content available in foreign languages (English, German and French, perhaps, for a start) could certainly increase the streaming service’s draw for those not versed in Polish.

However, the biggest problem currently facing the league is that – at the time of writing this very sentence, with less than eight hours until kick-off in the season’s curtain raiser between Arka Gdynia and Jagiellonia Bialystok – there is no sign of this service being available. The website, Ekstraklasa.TV, merely shows a holding page, before redirecting to the league’s own website.

Despite the silence from both the Ekstraklasa and the service provider OZ, it is being worked on. The structure for the platform is largely up-and-running, and being worked-on in the background, out of view of the public eye. Quite understandably, neither wishes to release an unfinished product to consumers. This begs the question: is it being thwarted by unscheduled delays, or is this a case of the service being rushed at the last minute?

Either way, having been able to temporarily gain access to the platform, we are aware of the prices for customers. The value option is a season pass, costing €49.99, and covering until the end of May, while a monthly payment is also offered at €6.99-a-month after a 30-day free trial. Alternatively, games will be offered on a pay-per-view basis, at €4.99 each. For those not worried about watching games live, there will also be a free subscription, likely offering clips of goals and other key highlights.

The platform itself looks slick and professional; OZ have been running similar for other competitions, mainly in North America and the Caribbean, and even showed several Puchar Polski games during the 2016/17 season. While the Ekstraklasa will be the biggest national league on the company’s books, there should theoretically be few issues once up and running.

However, we are not yet at that stage. With no (official) announcement of the service’s launch date, pricing structure, accessibility or benefits, the biggest concern at present is that fans have been left to wonder how, if at all, they are able to watch the start to the campaign.

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