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Do you SAFSee the point in paying to stream the Sunderland matches?

If you pay to stream every Sunderland game this season, it could end up costing you a lot of money. But is it worth it? Exiled fan Paul Fletcher gives his views on SAFSee - the club’s streaming platform.

Every other Sunday, I pay €4.95 to watch a stream of my local team, who play in the fourth tier of Spanish football. The quality of the football isn’t great and neither is the coverage.

The single cameraman (who I suspect is also the commentator) has a tendency to get over excited when something significant occurs, swinging the camera around haphazardly as if he’s being pursued by the Blair Witch. As a result, viewers occasionally miss important passages of play, and there are no replays.

In short, their stream is far worse than Sunderland’s effort. However, I don’t get even remotely annoyed about it – if anything it makes the experience more authentic. They’re a semi-professional team, with an average pre-covid home attendance of under 200. They’re doing the best they can with very limited resources, so I’m willing to cut them some slack.

But Sunderland AFC is a club with a proud history, a Category 1 academy, Premier League facilities and over 20,000 season ticket holders. Is the current standard of the stream really the best the club can do?

As disappointing as the current situation is, we have to face the prospect that football behind closed doors may well be the reality for the remainder of this season. Maybe a fortunate few thousand will get back into the Stadium of Light at some point, but for the vast majority of Sunderland supporters, especially exiles like me, the SAFSee stream is the only option. So why is it so poor? And why is little or nothing seemingly being done to improve it?

Sunderland v Hull City - Sky Bet League One Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

The main complaint against the stream is that it doesn’t always work for the full 90 minutes. I’ve paid for the stream for almost every game this season and I’d estimate that I’ve managed to see the full game in less than half of those. It’s quite common for the stream to disappear mid-match, requiring at best a refresh and at worst logging in and out of your account in order to restart the stream.

Missing a few minutes of the game might not seem like the end of the world (many would argue it’s a nice break, given how dull some of the football has been this season). However, it’s not good enough. You expect to get what you pay for.

Imagine the pubs reopen, you order your first pint and the barman/barmaid only fills it three quarters of the way up. You wouldn’t accept it, would you?

When the stream does ‘work’, the video seems to be constantly interrupted by sudden flashes. At first I thought it was random, but I’m becoming increasingly worried that William Storey and his consortium have hacked into the stream in order to send subliminal messages to all the Sunderland fans!

In the most recent game, we saw the addition of a new feature, never before seen in the history of sports broadcasting. I wonder if “the back of the commentators’ head cam” will catch on? Which brings us nicely on to my next point – the commentary…

Sunderland v AFC Wimbledon - Sky Bet League One Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

One major gripe I often hear about the SAFC live stream is directed at the commentary from Frankie Francis. Having a go at Frankie is unfair, in my opinion. In less than ideal circumstances, he’s been asked to do a job and he’s giving it a good go. Nobody can expect him and former Sunderland player Danny Collins to provide Sky Sports standard commentary when they don’t have even a fraction of the resources available.

Frankie comes across as a Sunderland supporter who both understands and cares about the club. He can’t be faulted for his enthusiasm or his effort. However, he is not a football commentator. His description of the action and some of his observations are reminiscent of a Phil Parkinson post-match interview. You’re left scratching your head and wondering which game he’s referring to.

Could I do a better job? Probably not, because I’m not a football commentator either. But I’m sure that there are professionals out there that could. I must stress that this is not me trying to start a #FrankieOut movement - not at all. Just for the 90 minutes of on-field action, I wish they’d bring in a commentator to describe the action alongside Danny Collins.

Frankie is a good presenter and I enjoy the pre-game build up with him chatting to Danny. Similarly, I enjoy the official club podcast that Frankie and Danny host. The two of them have a great rapport and the combination of an enthusiastic fan alongside a respected former pro works really well. They strike a good balance with enough football chat to keep hardcore fans happy and enough non-football chat to maintain the interest of more casual fans. I can understand why the club have hired him for that role. I just don’t understand why the club have put him on commentary duty.

Sunderland v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Like many things that have gone on at the club in recent seasons, questions must be asked of those in higher positions making these decisions? Who decided that this is the best possible offering the club can serve up to its loyal supporters? Who signs off on this once or twice a week thinking, ‘yeah, this is up to scratch’?

Some readers might think I’m making this into a big deal when it isn’t. It could be argued that not bothering to change the batteries in a clock for months isn’t a big deal either. After all, the club have much bigger problems to worry about. While this is true, it all screams of low standards and a lack of attention to detail.

Just one example of this is the music that plays in the background when the adverts are rolling. Music, which one of my fellow writers perfectly described as like ‘being stuck on hold’. It has no relevance to the game, no relevance to the club and no relevance to the region. It’s just been stuck in there with little or no thought, as an alternative to deathly silence.

Well, here’s a thought. The music industry is on its knees. Why not source a few tracks from some local bands and use them instead? I’m sure there are loads of local bands that would benefit from the exposure. And the addition of something upbeat with local interest might even make viewers take an interest in the screen and actually pay attention to the adverts. It would be a win-win and surely not that difficult to implement.

To sum up, just as I don’t expect the team to become perfect overnight, I don’t expect the stream to be perfect either. I’d just like to see higher standards, more thought and effort going into the planning, less basic mistakes being made and possibly a new face brought in to do a very specific job.

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