THE streaming boom may be coming to an end for Wanderers – for the time being at least – but the prospect of a new TV deal next season opens up another rich seam to be mined.

The Covid-affected 2020/21 season opened up Bolton’s eyes to the profits available on digital streaming. Supporters who were unable to get to the game were offered for the first time a chance to watch all the action from home, at £10 a pop.

Success on the field, coupled with a controversial payment structure weighted towards clubs with bigger fanbases, helped Wanderers match the type of money generated by some Championship clubs.

The following season, 2021/22, a profit of around £500,000 was confirmed, and this season the club decided to break from the iFollow structure to launch Wanderers TV with the help of streaming giants AMG.

The uptake has been encouraging. To date, around 2,200 people pay a subscription for the service, with the club hoping to push that number up to 5,000 in the near future. More than 12,500 different supporters are also registered to buy match passes, either video or audio.

Wanderers remain one of the best-supported away teams in League One, and indeed in the division above, but with Sky Sports securing a record £935m broadcast deal for next season, the game is watching with interest as to how that will affect the appetite of supporters to watch football in the flesh, particularly on the road.

The new arrangement will see more than 1,000 matches screened each season, either live or via the red button. The Saturday 3pm blackout remains in place for now, although many have speculated that the next round of talks could signal its end.

Wanderers voted in favour, even though it will significantly reduce the number of games they can screen to their UK supporters next season. But when you look at the numbers, it is little wonder.

If they remain in League One next season the increased central payments from the EFL will mean they are 25 per cent better off. If Evatt manages to get them into the Championship, that increase will be around 45 per cent.

Improved commercial performance, detailed in this discussion with chief executive, Neil Hart, will also be boosted if advertising can be sold off the back of Championship football to a nationwide streaming audience.

Chief executive, Hart, says fans must be aware that change is in the air.

Championship fixtures, plus a selection in Leagues One and Two, will be spread across the weekend to maximise viewership. That could – in theory – see Bolton playing their weekly fixtures on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday, depending on scheduling.

After falling back on iFollow, Wanderers TV and the like over the past few years, Bolton fans will have to be more flexible than ever. Hart is hopeful that it will not impact on the “passion” shown by fans watching their club live.

“After this season we won’t be able to broadcast domestically,” he said. “We will see what happens with the international broadcast but that audience is great for Bolton and we have a lot of subscribers from right around the world.

“I look at it very simply. I am the chief executive of the club so I have to look at it from a numbers point of view – and I look at the revenue Wanderers TV or before that iFollow brought in and then go ‘right, the new TV deal means X amount extra’. If it is more, and it was, then we vote in favour of the new TV deal.

“I know it is a simple view but hopefully it helps people understand why we voted in favour and why things will change next season. It will be financially more rewarding for us.

“I think in terms of the scheduling, anything that puts Bolton Wanderers live on Sky more, we must be in favour of doing. I genuinely mean that.

“I know Bolton fans, those who love this club, thousands of people follow us away from home, we have seen big crowds this season – people are enjoying being a part of this club again.

“I think those people will stick with the club whether it is a Monday night, a Thursday night, a Saturday or a Sunday.

“I don’t think it affects the passion of our supporters.”

In a wider context, pressure on Premier League clubs to reduce the amount of football they are playing is now greater than ever, particularly in light of scheduling changes to the Champions League, in which clubs are now guaranteed eight games in the group stages.

It has been mooted that involvement in the League Cup – currently sponsored by Carabao – could involve Under-21 teams, or that replays in the FA Cup could be scrapped altogether.

Hart says he is happy to keep the status quo.

“Everyone has a different view and I am looking at it as a chief exec and my driver tends to be finances and commercial factors,” he said.

“Do I think there is too much football going on at the moment? I don’t think so.

“Is there a capacity for more to be played? I am not sure. I think we’re at capacity.

“In terms of the League Cup, I think it is a competition which is important to the EFL and its clubs so I wouldn’t be in favour of Under-21s teams coming into it. We have seen it in the EFL Trophy (now Bristol Street Motors Trophy) and I trust Rick Parry and Trevor Birch, who are experienced guys, to do the right thing for the game.

“My personal view is that I would not change things. It is still a chance for Premier League teams to win a major trophy and we shouldn’t diminish that.”

Commercially, Wanderers have enjoyed a significant upturn in the last couple of seasons, and it is hoped that investment over the summer in their hospitality sector will lead to another level of revenue in the future.

The bond scheme, which raised more than £4.5million in the summer, enabled a complete refurbishment of suites at the stadium. Further work is planned at the hotel and Hart believes the ability to offer different matchday packages to all types of Bolton supporter will prove to be a big revenue generator in the future.

“There has been a clear upturn,” he said. “There is still growth opportunity there and we’re pushing for that to happen.

“We want to refurbish the hotel. New finish at the front, new carpets, new reception desk – it just looks a little tired as it stands at the moment.

“The place is doing really well at the moment and for the first time since I have been here we have seen three consecutive months of profitability, which is an amazing place to be in.

“We then spent nearly £500,000 on a revamp of the hospitality areas. The capacity here is huge and there is a great opportunity to get people in to enjoy matchday.

“What we had before was a lot of offerings but they were all pretty much the same, whether you were in the Platinum Suite or the Lion of Vienna. We have now created a tiered system.

“Now, if you go into the Lion of Vienna from noon for a B category game, I think it is £35 plus VAT and for an A category game it is £40 plus VAT. You have access to the lounge, the bar, you can buy from the street food vendors, comfy seat, lanyard and a programme. If you look at paying £32 for a general admission seat, I know where I’d rather go. That is our entry level hospitality, and I think we have priced it really well.

“The next level was the Hall of Fame, which we have re-named Club McGinlay, and John did a nice opening session prior to the Petetborough game. That has also been re-done with new signage and furniture, bar. That has more of your traditional foods.

“In the West we have the Platinum – which is now called 1877 – which is another step up, more a la carte, full board offering. That is virtually at capacity for most games, 200-220 people.

“And then we have created a vice-president’s lounge, which is next to the chairman’s. We have a lot of our high net worth individuals and big bond holders, honorary vice presidents and guests of the board are in there.

“There are boxes in the West and East stand, and there are some still available, and it all comes under the Club Bolton section on the website where all the price points are available.

“I think it is now an attractive offer to come in, pick a level of hospitality which suits you, enjoy good food, good service and make it really special.”