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Scottish Football should ignore Sky Sports’ 30 pieces of silver

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Yesterday the English Premier League announced the new TV rights deal with Sky Sports and BT Sport worth £5.14 billion for seasons 2016 to 2019.

Compare that to the Scottish football deal which is reportedly around £15 million per season for 86 televised games, making the price paid for the rights down south obscene. It is even more damning to realise that just two games in the English Premier League cover the full season’s Scottish football tv deal.

UK television broadcasters will pay more to show two English Premier League games than they shell out to show an entire season of Scottish Professional Football League action.

But should we really compare our game with the over inflated and over hyped English Premier League?

Despite elements within the Scottish game – from clubs to the governing body to even the media – having a hard-on for the amount of money the English clubs receive in my opinion we should be ignoring everything to do with the English game. It is living in its own wee bubble and it will eventually burst.

So what should the powers-that-be in Scottish football do?

Well first off the likes of Neil Doncaster and Stewart Regan need to be shown the door. Their comments over the past three years, since the financial demise and liquidation of Rangers, have been nothing short of gross misconduct.

The two Englishmen are in the two most prominent jobs in the Scottish game and yet they have belittled and rubbished our game.

In 2012, Scottish FA chief executive Stewart Regan claimed that Scottish football was in danger of a ‘slow, lingering death’ if newco Rangers entered the Scottish Football League within the Third Division. He also made it clear that the Scottish FA could not allow Rangers to start life again at the bottom of Senior Football.

The Englishman said: “The only solution for the game now is that Rangers come into the Scottish Football League and they come into it in the First Division. If Rangers were to go anywhere other than the First Division, then there would something in the region of £15.7million worth of losses to the game.

“For the bigger clubs at the top of the league, that’s half their annual distributions. For clubs at the bottom it is basically wiping out their entire distributions, for some of the smaller clubs it’s a huge proportion of their annual turnover.

“Even if Rangers end up in the First Division, there is still going to be a £5 million loss of income to the SPL clubs. The game is not sustainable so there would be a slow lingering death for the game in Scotland. It would then trickle down to the SFL. From our perspective as the governing body, we cannot allow that to happen.”

The Scottish FA and the SPL [now SPFL]flogged the television rights solely on the premise of four Old Firm games each year and when that was no longer on the table, then their job at marketing our game became harder and when called on to work for their money – they were found wanting.

Regan added: “Without Old Firm games, the value drops, the overseas deals are almost exclusively about the Old Firm derby and that would go immediately. It is fair to say the broadcasters would live with a year without Rangers in the SPL, because it could be a fantastic story for them, which is why I think First Division rights will be an interest as people will want to see how this club is going to bounce back.”

Then there was the claims of Armageddon from SPFL chief Neil Doncaster. Enough said about that pile of mince the better.

So with the two chiefs belittling our game what hope do we have in promoting our game, especially when these two are responsible for doing the deals that are in the best interests of the game.

We need strong leadership at the helm of both the SPFL and the Scottish FA, at this time we have none in either position. And it is time changes were made.

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When Barry Hearn rolled up into Scotland he was a breath of fresh air. And yet when he launched into why the Scottish game – those in the room burst out laughing. When they should really have been cringing at their failings.

Hearn said: “I’m not an expert on Scottish football. Listening to your [financial]figures, doesn’t seem like you are either.”

That is when the laughs echoed from those in attendance, those tasked with running and managing our game. Do they have no shame?

He added: “All I can see is a mess. There’s no optimism. You’re going around looking at your shoelaces and people [broadcasters]are taking advantage.”

“I look at Scottish football and see a nation with its head down looking at its shoelaces. You’re better than that. When I started off with the darts and snooker, we were way down, but we believed in ourselves and had a bit of a passion. Sometimes organisations get into that mode of ‘Oh, that’s how it is’.

“They are totally lazy and set in their ways. The fact you’ve got a Scottish Premiership without a sponsor. Do you know how long you’d work for Barry Hearn if that was the case? I won’t even tell you how long because that’s not a performance I’m looking for. You wouldn’t have time to take your coat off. You’d be in the car park.”

Scottish football for the fans is a poor product on and off it. Quality of players has dropped as finances get tighter. Ticket prices are increased as clubs try to pay their bills pushing fans out of the game and towards their televisions and with that the English game as that is the main focus of Sky Sports and BT Sports.

But there are positives in the game, despite some quarters peddling the negative side time and again.

Hearn added: “You’ve got to grow. You’ve got to be positive. You can’t expect people to take you seriously if you don’t take yourself seriously. If you live in everyone’s shadow then you never come out of that shadow. The fact the league doesn’t have a sponsor says everything you need to know.”

That is why Doncaster and Regan are not fit for purpose given their past comments and why the hard-on for the English game from many quarters is having a detrimental affect on the Scottish game.

Hearn continued: “Listen, I’ll carry on selling 11,000 for a night of darts at the Hydro and your attendances will be 1,250 people, or whatever. I’m a visitor, so I’m cheating a bit, but the world is changing and there are so many more opportunities that you might not be aware of. How can a little company like mine turn over the same amount as the SPFL?

“Sometimes you get stuck up your own backside with this blazer mentality. I can’t stand blazers. Everything comes down to money and the clubs are starving. My message to the leaders would be to wake up and smell the coffee. I can’t say any more. I don’t know these people personally, but they’re not unsuccessful people.

“The mystery in my mind is how someone with a background in commerce, or wherever, who has run successful companies and can’t see the validity of common sense. That’s a mystery.

“My wife constantly reminds me ‘you’re just a working class yobbo’ and I say ‘I ain’t done too badly for a working class yobbo’. But I’ve got a basic understanding of how to exploit things to their maximum and most of it is just hard work.”

“Even if you’re useless, I want to see you acting like you’re good, selling yourself. I’m selling-out darts arenas for a sport that’s not visible to the naked eye. I’m saying to the world ‘you need to be involved in this’. I can sell live fishing. Live fishing! I’m good and you’re not good enough. What’s gone wrong here in Scotland?’

So if an outsider can see what is drastically wrong with the powers-that-be in the Scottish game.

Is there a future for Scottish Football coverage?

Currently four media outlets cover Scottish Football – Sky Sports, BT Sport, BBC Scotland and BBC Alba – all with various levels of coverage. But the general consensus is that the coverage of the Scottish game is poor – the match highlights on BBC Scotland’s Sportscene programme are minimal at best – you are lucky to get five minutes of highlights per game – including analysis from the so-called pundits. With more focus placed on Celtic and Rangers than the other games. What a way to sell our game to the Scottish public!

The highlights are even broadcast outside of the UK first before they are shown in Scotland. What other league does that?

We now have games on Friday night, Saturday mornings, Sunday afternoons and midweek broadcast on the TV with these TV companies dictating what times and when the games are kicked off. The power should be in the hands of the governing bodies to dictate times and dates not the TV companies – but when you hand out a begging bowl to these media outlets like the SPFL and the Scottish FA do – what do you expect.

Advocates of summer football state that Scottish football will see a sizeable increase of fans as there would be no competition with the English game. But we shouldn’t merely switch seasons so that we can play around the English game to pick up their scraps and that is what Scottish football is at the minute to these broadcasters – channel fillers in between their EPL coverage and it is about time that the Scottish game is produced and broadcast in the best interests of the game and its football fans than suits who rub their hands with glee at the amount of money flowing in from Scottish football fans who pay to watch a product that is 99% of the time focusing on the game outwith Scotland. And you wonder why the new generation of football fans are staying away from our stadiums.

Of course TV coverage of the game is not solely to blame for dwindling crowds, but it certainly plays its part. Why would you go to watch Partick Thistle v Kilmarnock at a rain soaked and windy Firhill, when you can sit in the warmth of your own home or even the pub watching football on the TV – no matter what league it is.

We will certainly have games broadcast on the likes of BT Sport and Sky Sports – but with their huge financial outlay to cover the English game – how many Scottish games will be covered? When will they be shown and at what time?

It is time that we ditch the begging bowl and refuse the 30 pieces of silver from Sky Sports – so that we can go it alone.

Scottish Football TV

Straight off the bat there will be critics who say that this will never work, the expenditure will be more than what will be brought in from subscribers.

Taking the total average home attendances for the Premiership season 2013-14 into account – 122,834 fans – then using Sky Sports pricing we can certainly raise more than what the SPFL get at this moment in time.

Of course when I say Sky Sports pricing, I mean what they charge for their Sky Sports weekly subscription, at £10.99 – but instead of charging it weekly charge the same amount on a monthly basis.

With 122,834 subscribers paying £10.99 a month you could secure £16,199,347 each year. That number of subscribers of course could be more or less than that figure – its not a shoe-in. But if the product is good and it is priced correctly then the subscribers will follow.

BT Sport do not produce Scottish football coverage – that is done by the production company Sunset & Vine – while BBC Alba rely on MNE TV for their production services for their coverage. SPFL TV could certainly use their services just as BT Sport and BBC Alba do.

Then you have the Scottish FA and the selling of their rights using IMG. A Scottish Football TV channel controlled by an independent body – with the Scottish FA and the SPFL having a seat at the table – could ultimately nudge IMG out of the way to broadcast Scotland international matches – Men’s, Women’s and Youth games; Scottish Cup games etc.

This channel can broadcast not only senior football games, but why not HFL, Lowland League and Womens games? Whether recorded or live they will certainly be able to produce regular coverage of the Scottish game week in week out.

On top of that you will then have highlights shows, talk shows and even documentaries all dedicated to the Scottish game.

So if Scottish Football TV secure that Digital TV spot and it obtains the necessary subscribers to covers their costs and then some. You will still have the advertisers to make it more worthwhile for the clubs to accept than the hand out from Sky Sports.

And that is where two strong leaders come into play – not Doncaster and Regan that is for sure. Leadership at the top of a members driven organisation is a must. Especially when trying to sell them a product that will be tough to produce and sell unlike the ready made product that Sky and BT Sport can hand to them for much less work.

There is further scope for broadcasting our games – including online – specifically doing deals with YouTube to broadcast live games. US Soccer has seen the rise of such broadcasts whether mens or womens – paid or free to air. If you get the necessary advertising in place to cover costs why not broadcast games for free? Especially lower league.

The SPFL and Scottish FA currently have their own respective YouTube channels – what are your thoughts? – Then compare them to the MLS channel and US Soccer’s own channel. Thoughts?

The marketing side of Scottish Football TV is crucial in all of this as is the leadership from the SPFL and the Scottish FA. To do this we need strong leaders, those who excel in their field and those who can sell. Can you honestly see Regan and Doncaster doing this?

While we may look south for ideas and for comparison – maybe it is time to cast our eyes over the Atlantic and gauge the expertise and opinion of US marketing and promotion experts. If the MLS can produce a quality broadcast platform both online and on TV – why not Scottish football?

Of course the finances are different – but why employ someone with a pin hammer to crack a coconut when you can employ the person with the sledgehammer? Get the best person for the job in their respective roles not the best person for the job in the eyes of the clubs or the bureaucrats wearing blazers.

In my opinion and after all it is only my opinion, the American way of marketing, broadcasting and selling sport is the way to go.

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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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