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Blast from the Past as SPL TV idea crops up again

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The Scottish Premier League have announced that they have appointed IMG Media to look into the potential establishment of an SPL Television channel.

IMG Media will use their wealth of expertise and experience as the world’s largest independent producer and distributor of sports programming. Over a six month period IMG will evaluate the potential of an SPL channel.

Neil Doncaster, SPL Chief Executive, commented: “A number of other European football leagues have gone down this route or are currently exploring this option. It is vital that the SPL fully understands the risks and rewards from an own-channel solution, as part of our ongoing efforts to improve Scottish football. The concept represents an opportunity for us to shape a unique channel for fans of Scottish football and we look forward to working with supporter groups to hear their views.”

The SPL’s deal with SKY Sports and ESPN lasts until the end of Season 2013/14, but the SPL have an option to terminate the contract at the end of season 2011/12.

The plan is reminiscent of a previous proposal back in 2002, which failed to gain the support of the Old Firm, after Sky Sports withdrew from bidding for the rights to continue broadcasting live action after the club’s rejected the company’s offer.

The rights were sold to BBC Scotland on a two-year deal, with the rights to broadcast highlights of each game on council telly and online. And then Setanta Sports took over the rights and won the rights once more in 2008 with a deal worth £128 million over four years, but the Irish broadcasters went into administration in 2009 and the SPL were forced to accept a lesser offer from ESPN and SKY Sports, worth less than half of what Setanta was due to pay from 2010.

Former SPL Chief Executive Roger Mitchell was at the helm of the governing body of Scotland’s top league when it last considered a channel.

“The context is important because the main thing about a channel is that you need it when there are very few bidders around for your television rights,” he told BBC Scotland. “And, in my time in 2001, there was a media recession, there was the Twin Towers and values were depressed and NTL was going out of business and ITV Digital was going out of business – similar to what has happened in the last 18 months with Setanta and the recession and everything like that.”

According to Mitchell there are now fewer obstacles within the SPL now, but admits that the 12 clubs may shirk away from taking such a risk.

“It was Celtic and Rangers who decided they didn’t want to take the risk,” he said. “And the other 10 resigned after that and that resulted in the change of the voting rules, which my successor may get the advantage of. It is more whether the chairmen want to take money up front on the table from somebody like Sky or want to be in the media game and they want to have the risk of finding out how many subscribers they can attract or retain.”

“I think Setanta proved, with the amount of subscribers they got, that the business plan was robust and the model of my SPL television would have worked,” he continued. “The business plan was there the last time. Even the scheduling of the programming was there. Setanta failed because bidding for English football, not because of what happened in Scotland. SPL television would have made more than the offer of Sky in 2002. Our market research was based on around 200,000 subscribers. I may be wrong, but Setanta was a wee bit more than that.”

However Mitchell believes it is more use as a bargaining tool to achieve a better deal with current providers Sky and ESPN.

“SPL television is a stalker horse to make sure that the bidder doesn’t low-ball you too much,” he added. “It is important to go to the negotiating table with more than one option. Neil Doncaster, I think, is being smart in doing this. Whether I think SPL TV will end up being the ultimate solution really depends on what ESPN and Sky do. If they say get on with it, maybe it will happen this time. If they don’t and say ‘we’ll give you the cheque’, all things being equal, the clubs will take the money up front.”

Do you believe SPL TV is a good idea? If so what would you like to see on the channel? Who would you like to see on it as pundits and commentators. Or do you believe that it is all pie in the sky and another gimmick that the SPL are focusing on and taking away from where their real focus should be – attracting the fans back to the stadiums.

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About Author

scotzine

Andy Muirhead is the Editor of Scotzine and the Scottish Football fanzine FITBA. He is the Scottish Football columnist for The Morning Star and has written for a number of other publications including ESPN, Huffington Post UK, BT Life's a Pitch and has had his work featured in the Daily Record, The Scotsman and the Daily Mail.

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