A couple of weeks back, I made the decision to start supporting my local League of Ireland team. Many moons ago I was a big Kilkenny City fan, but when that team vanished, I just turned to supporting Liverpool. Flash forward a few years and I feel it’s right to connect with my local club St. Patrick’s Athletic. The first thing I learned was if I wanted to watch League of Ireland, I had to buy games on Watch LOI, a streaming service run by the League of Ireland, the Football Association of Ireland and RTÉ. After watching a few games, here’s what I think of it.
What Is Watch LOI?
Watch LOI (or Watch League of Ireland) is a paid streaming platform for League of Ireland Premier Division, First Division and Women’s National League games. The service came into being in July 2020 as the League of Ireland sought a solution to showing games to fans unable to attend stadiums for safety reasons. The service doesn’t have an app, but works in browsers and support Chromecast, which gives you the option of watching on a computer, Mac, iPad, Android, iPhone or your TV with a Chromecast.
The Watch LOI service will set you back €59 for the “Kick-off” pass or you can buy on a game-by-game basis for €5 per game. This includes access to 60+ games live and on catch-up, streamed in Full HD up until the mid-season break.
Is Watch LOI Worth It?
This is a very difficult question to answer. On the one hand, you can watch every League of Ireland game from the comfort of your own home for just €59. That’s excellent. Declan McBennett, Group Head of Sport at RTÉ rightly points out that in a pandemic “this is a chance for the whole of the Irish footballing family to get behind the SSE Airtricity League and lend their support in every way to the clubs as the heartbeat of the association”.
There are somethings that Watch LOI is doing right. First of all, the service supports Chromecast. This is great and it means you can easily fling your stream onto the TV. It’s also quite an ambitious project to show all League of Ireland games. In terms of accessibility to watching football and the price point, it’s very hard to fault the general concept.
“There’s no excuses here. If this takes off, great for everybody. If it doesn’t and the numbers are not significant then there’s lessons there for everybody as well. The numbers of the subscriptions domestically and internationally will prove the merit of it.
RTÉ’s McBennett says “nobody in soccer can say they’re not getting coverage here, this is pretty much every game now. The price point cannot be an issue because it’s more than competitive”. He’s completely right with the facts. The price it right and there’s a camera at every game.
But at the same time, the quality of Watch LOI feels like RTÉ have invested the bare minimum and delivered something to League of Ireland fans that’s a “better than nothing” solution. Today, I’m watching the derby game between Bohemians and St. Pats but most of the coverage looks like it’s being shot by a hobbyist with their own camera. Personally, I’ve not had streaming issues like buffering, but I’ve seen plenty of fans online saying streams are stuttering or Chromecast just won’t work. I’m not going to dwell on those because they’ve not been my experience. Plus, there’s plenty of things that I’ve first hand experience of.
One of the biggest talking points of football these days is video refereeing or VAR. Well, there’s no danger of that here because Watch LOI often doesn’t even offer replays. Sure, you can click back in your own stream, but then you don’t have the commentators talking you through what you’re seeing.
St. Pat’s just score a goal as I was writing this. I got to see a dodgy zoom in on the manager celebrating and a couple of seconds of that awkward resetting on the pitch, but no replay of the actual goal.
Single Camera Angle
This is perhaps the biggest give away of the poor production effort going into Watch LOI. It’s all shot on a single camera. If you’re looking for a positive, during the daylight games it’s not a bad camera. It feels like you could get motion sickness watching a League of Ireland game on Watch LOI. A single camera in the stand zooms in and out panning from left to right following the play. If there’s a corner on the right for the team playing left to right, you get a wonderful shot of the car park next to the pitch.
No Match Clock
Honestly, this was a straw breaking the camel’s back moment. Checking in on a game between Finn Harps and Bohemians from March, there was no match clock and no scoreboard on the screen. Yet, Watch LOI manages to get a massive version of their logo on the screen which seems to distort the entire bottom of the screen.
So let’s get this straight. You think you heard a goal when you were making dinner. But you’re not sure. You run to see the screen and there’s no scoreboard. How long until half time? Was it a last minute equaliser? Who knows!?
There are two kinds of game you’ll get to watch on Watch LOI. The streaming only games and the games also live on RTÉ television. The latter gets the full bells and whistles treatment with pundits, multiple camera angles and even replays. The streaming only games are single camera with commentators but no replays or pundits. The production values are minimal.
With a bit of effort, Watch LOI could get creative here and even have something like the famous Sky Fan Zone. Instead, like I said earlier they’ve gone for the absolutely bare bones production.
On the one hand, it’s somewhat understandable given they are covering every game, but surely our national soccer league deserves a bit more love than that?
Watch LOI: The Verdict
My frustration with the Watch LOI platform stems from RTÉ’s approach to streaming technology in general. RTÉ Player is enough of a shambles to make me upset that I pay a TV license. Now, I’m paying for two fairly awful platforms from our national broadcaster. If you follow any gaming streamers or YouTubers with a semi decent following, it’s easy to see that squeezing some production value from your streams can be easy enough.
That is if you’re bothered.
RTÉ no longer has a weekly highlights show and they claim to be pumping over €300k into production of games. An AI camera system called Pixellot is being deployed for First Division and Women’s League games, with the people behind Watch LOI painting this as a positive. The truth is that this is the biggest sign of all that they are trying to do everything on a shoestring budget while taking the money from League of Ireland fans who desperately want to watch their team’s games.
Now, I am just a blow in. I’ve just paid for Watch LOI and adopted my local team. I understand that Watch LOI is an important revenue stream for clubs but I don’t for one second trust that the FAI and RTÉ are doing their level best for the clubs or fans here. Also, it’s not just me that thinks Watch LOI is below an expected standard.