Live streaming of Coleraine matches has proved extremely popular with supporters.
THEY say necessity is the mother of invention.
Which is certainly true for Irish League football clubs, including Coleraine.
Faced with the problem of restricted numbers attending games because of the coronavirus pandemic, officials and volunteers have come up with an ingenious solution - live streaming of games at Ballycastle Road.
The club has successfully broadcast a number of games to a growing audience, going some way to helping soften the blow for those missing their weekly football fix.
And that trend looks sure to continue after the NI Executive ruled last week that Elite sport can continue - but only behind closed doors.
That means Saturday’s home game against Larne takes on added significance for the production team, headed up by local photographer David Cavan.
A man with plenty of media experience, David has played a key role in establishing what is dubbed ‘Coleraine TV.’ He was quick to recognise the potential of online coverage in a radically changing landscape and had the necessary know-how to pull it all together.
“To be honest, I don’t think it's been that difficult, but the timescale was a challenge,” he admits.
“With a volunteer run project, finding the time to get stuff tested and make sure we were ready to go was the biggest obstacle.
“The league made the decision a week or so before the first game of the season after exploring a centralised project for all the clubs.
“When it became clear that it wasn’t possible, they temporarily granted clubs who requested permission the rights to broadcast their home games.
“This was after the deal was finalised with the BBC which saw them take 50 extra games across the season, a landmark deal for which the BBC and league deserve great credit.
“With regards to our own stream, once we received permission we got in contact with 24/7 who are our streaming provider.
“One of the major stipulations in the rights being granted to the clubs was that the games would be placed behind a paywall.
“We explored a couple of options before getting 24/7 on board - they also run the stream for the majority of the league - and they have been brilliant to work with.”
An agreement in place, the next stage of the process was finding the right people to make the dream become a reality.
“The media team at the club is a small group of volunteers,” explains David.
“From that group, Aaron O’Neill has been placed in charge of the main broadcast camera. Considering he was thrown in at the deep end, he has been doing an amazing job.
“Adam Strong, meanwhile, has been helping out with the second camera angle. One of the ways we wanted to give the fans the best access possible was to shoot the game from two camera angles. After a few technical issues with the first game, I feel we really saw the benefit of that by the second week.
“Simon Magee has been the board member making a lot of things possible, as well as Johnny McNabb, Niel Woods, Nigel Johnston and Steven Crawford who have been supporting the team with ideas.
“Our commentators Barry Greene and David Platt have been doing a great job and will only get better. Anything we throw at them they are able to deal with it and be professional and give fans the insight they love.
“On a game day, we have a match director based in England where the camera feeds are sent to. It’s his/her job to put the score, clock and other graphics on the screen, as well as replays etc.
“My role is just to bring it all together but, without all this lot, it simply wouldn’t be happening.”
The result is a product which has been gaining praise for its production values, as well as attracting healthy viewing figures.
“This is the thing that makes all the hard work worthwhile,” continues David.
“The board has invested a lot into this project, all based on the desire to give loyal fans the access they need to see the games safely.
“Getting comments and messages from people, literally all over the world, saying they are delighted to be tuning in and seeing their team play is brilliant.
“That shows you just how well supported the team is and how vital it has been to get the stream up and running.
“It's proving really popular, especially since our first two live streams had 400 or so fans in the ground.
“And from conversations with other clubs, it seems like we have one of the most viewed streams in the league.
“What I have also loved is how important it’s been that away fans have been supporting each stream. Passionate support of our club is hugely important and we want to see our team be as competitive as ever on the pitch.
“Off the pitch, we are reminded that the support of all the clubs is the only thing we can do personally to safeguard the future of the league. I know other clubs have been really thankful for the support in numbers for their streams on match day from our fans on away days.”
There is no doubt, then, that the product will improve as the season progresses. But what of the future? Is live streaming here to stay?
“Currently, the agreement with the league is on a temporary basis for this season, but who knows,” says David.
“One of the main reasons we don’t just want to have a simple stream of the game but have a well produced match day show is that it makes the decision of the league and rights holders harder at the end to not consider it as an option.
“Whilst the ultimate decision on its future will be out of our hands, our goal, especially while fans are limited, is to bring the best match day experience online.
“As we get a few more games under our belts, we hope to continue to improve the overall production value and the access we can give fans.
“Having spoken to the board I know how thankful they are to all the fans who have either been able to attend the games or have purchased the stream so who knows what might happen in the future?”
For now, though, with tough new restrictions in place, it’s clear that live streaming will have an increasingly important role to fill over the coming weeks and months.