Date: 1st September 2016 at 11:46pm
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The newly rebranded EFL Trophy, including Premier League and Championship Academy Category One clubs, kicked off the first fixtures of 2016/17 on Tuesday and Wednesday evening this week.

There was a mix of results with some of the newly fangled Under 23 sides taking victory over their League One and Two opponents, but equally League One and Two sides also took victory in some cases in the first games of the Group stages following the revamp.

But with plenty of disgust, disappointment and disbelief that came from the announcement this summer of the introduction of Academy sides into what is the greatest possible route for League One and Two sides to Wembley during a season (other than natural Play Offs in League competition), we all know the concerns of it being a pathway to professional B teams in the domestic pyramid – although it must be said the Football League have stated this is the only step they will make as they appreciate B teams are not wanted in our game.

Despite that clarification it still led to plenty of social media campaigns, @AgainstLeague3 and #BTeamBoycott are simply two that gained plenty of traction, that I’m aware of, when it came to the thoughts of fans of clubs who felt what was the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy for the past decade, had been devalued by these moves.

Added to that one of the prime movers and selling points for opening the competition up to originally Premier League teams only, was the fact there was no sponsor and the Premier League offered/negotiated a £1million prize fund boost that was irrevocable even if the competition didn’t proceed as planned.

Following that announcement the Football League announced a new sponsor aswell, the competition is now known as the Checkatrade Trophy.

Now whilst Premier League and Championship sides now involved see the benefits of truly competitive action for their next generation and fans of such see the same, it’s also fair to say the more discerning and cynical League One and Two fan sees simply £££££££££’s and continue to wonder how in fact this is anything that aides their club, their clubs’ chance of success.

Of course having referenced the social media campaigns, the boycott in particular gained traction with plenty of fans facebooking and twittering (or whatever the phrases are) promises to skip the match ticket and instead donate it to charity – and whilst I have no comparison to last season’s first round games – a quick scout of VitalFootball itself on Match Stats shows plenty of games saw only a couple of hundred in attendance with some matches bucking the trend and getting at best 2000 to 4000 fans. There also didn’t seem to be a boost for attendance based on Under 23 sides visiting grounds with the potential of first teamers on display.

Before the end of the week with the transfer window now closed, no doubt the media and number crunchers will come up with the figures on whether or not the boycott had a dramatic effect compared to opening games last season, but on the eve of Tuesday’s fixtures, the Football League arguably were certainly trying to ease the concerns of fans when it came to the financial benefits this would bring applicable clubs.

A statement confirmed that prize money this season for the competition would stand at £1.95million and they were quick to point out that was a 300% plus increase on the prize fund from 2015/16, and apparently it made it the most lucrative season of the competition following its inception back in the 1983/84 season – many will say that alone shows how far the competition has slipped.

The statement went on to confirm that clubs this year would benefit from £10,000 per win, and £5000 per draw at the Group Stage levels, and this obviously increases when teams get to the knockout stages.

Confirming that the winner of the competition would pocket £100,000 from lifting the trophy, the Football League also confirmed that invited Category One Under 23 sides will donate ‘all or some’ of their gate receipts to a central pot held by the EFL that will be eventually distributed equally amongst League One and Two clubs as well.

The cynic says ‘some’ or ‘all’?

Further cynics might say ‘all’ or ‘some?’

Others will question whether I put the question mark in the right place?

Chief Executive Shaun Harvey explained in the release.

‘Following the changes in the competition structure and format, the introduction of an additional £1million in prize money and a new and enhanced sponsorship agreement with Checkatrade, the competition offers significant financial benefits for EFL clubs in 2016/17 when compared to previous seasons. Clubs will receive prize money for the games that they win or they draw in the first round group stage as well as the knockout rounds. Of the 48 EFL clubs that competed in the competition last season, 29 teams earned less than £10,000 from the competition and 37 received less than £20,000. With £10,000 on offer for each group stage victory, it is clear to see there are now tangible short-term financial benefits to the Checkatrade Trophy as well as the more established longer-term ones. This has not been possible previously. Additional revenues will be generated for EFL clubs with invited Category One clubs agreeing to donate a proportion of their allocated net gate receipts to an EFL ‘pot`. The final sum will be shared equally amongst League One and League Two clubs following the conclusion of the competition. Alongside the financial increases, the new format is intended to reinvigorate the competition as well as assisting with the development of the very best young players in English football. The EFL and its clubs remain committed to producing more and better home grown players which will deliver benefits to both the domestic and international game.’

Clearly the financial incentives will be welcomed by the beancounters at clubs, especially if wins and draws can be secured on a regular basis in the competition as that will clearly then have an impact on playing budgets come January and potentially next summer as well.

But we are hardly talking millions here and across the life of a clubs’ involvement in the competition – will a lack of fan interest in gate receipts, and the associated programme, beverage (or several) leave some no better off in some senses BUT with even less of a chance of making the final?

Time as ever will tell, and getting the majority agreement for the changes this summer from League One and Two clubs, I would imagine the Football League outlined the baseline financial improvement for each club compared to last year, but with growing disinterest in the competition overall and plenty not yet seeing what benefits these changes bring, the EFL will be hoping to see attendances at least grow from the first round of games as opposed to seeing more fans give up on the competition outright.