English Football League Ready to Take on the World

The English football league is about to hit the global stage.

The EFL — a fixture on traditional TV in the United Kingdom, whose top teams are promoted to the English Premier League — will be available in about 180 more countries starting in early August via a new subscription service that will lean heavily on NeuLion’s online video-services platform.

The service, called iFollow, will feature about 1,500 matches from 72 clubs across three divisions, along with replays, highlights and behind-the-scenes content. It will be available in the local currencies.

In the U.S., iFollow, already available for preorder, costs about $140 for the upcoming season. A version of iFollow for EFL supporters in the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland will sell for £45 (U.S. $57), but won’t include live, streamed games due to TV-rights restrictions in the region.

Notably, the this season’s EFL subscription OTT offering this season will be the first to use a “virtual” announcer feature from NeuLion, according to company executive vice president Chris Wagner.

NeuLion will capture the live video stream from each venue, along with the ambient crowd noise, and strip out the regular broadcast TV commentary, stitching in play-by-play calls and commentary from announcers viewing that live stream from a centrally located studio in the U.K.

Though the initial version of the virtual announcer concept will be in English, it can easily support multiple languages for different geographic locations, Wagner said. NeuLion already supports more than nine different languages for NBA International League Pass, the pro-hoops league’s on-demand package sold outside of the U.S.

In addition to handling the virtual commentary, NeuLion will also prepare the live streams and offer them at multiple bit rates, up to HD for viewers with enough bandwidth to support that format. NeuLion has also built the monetization engine for iFollow, as well as the virtual storefronts and the individual apps.

Initially, the EFL OTT offering will be available on the web and via mobile apps, with support for TV-connected devices currently on the roadmap. PokerGo, the new subscription OTT service that emerged about six months after Poker Central shut down a linear TV network targeted for traditional pay TV distribution, already works with NeuLion to deliver service on devices such as Roku players, Amazon Fire TV and Apple boxes, Chromecast adapters, Android TV devices, and Xbox and PlayStation consoles.

Though the EFL is taking a streaming-only path outside the U.K. and Ireland, it’s not the only soccer league to broaden its OTT horizons. Last month, NBC Sports Group announced a separate direct-to-consumer streaming subscription package for the Premier League, offering 130 live games and extras for $50, starting this August.

NBC Sports will continue to offer a batch of Premier League games on NBC, NBCSN and CNBC that won’t be offered on the separate streaming package, which will now feature some games it had previously offered via its authenticated TV Everywhere app for pay TV subscribers.

Facebook, meanwhile said it would stream more than a dozen live matches from the UEFA Champions League this fall for free in the U.S. in partnership with Fox Sports, which holds domestic rights to the tournament.