Broadcasting deals for Scotttish football have received a lot of bad press in the last 12 months. Some off it quite rightly warranted, however a great deal of iit was anywhere between misguided to just plain wrong.
The facts are there are 2 types on sport: sport with a TV presence and amatuer sport watched by 2 men annd a dog. Some people are too quick to judge the negative aspects of broadcast contracts without acknowleging the overwhelming positives. And they are overwhelming, so let's look at just of few of them.
1. Broadcast agreements are not just free advertising, they actually pay to advertise football. Now if someone can to my business and said they would pay me to advertise my product I would be deighted. TV showcases football and it is up to the foootball authorities to ensure the product they are pedallng is up to scratch and it is up to the Clubs to recognise the additional benefits of TV besides direct income . This leads nicely into...
2. ...that old myth that televised games leads to reduced crowds. This myth is perpetuated by clubs receiving additional revenue from TV for live games due to a reduction in the expected crowd. So what football clubs are doing is telling their fans to stay home and watch the game on TV because we don't need you because of the TV cash. All it would take is a change of attitude from clubs to break the back of this myth. It astounds me because all the evidence around world sport suggests the exact opposite is true. Closer to Scotland I don't so attendances in the EPL dropping signifiicantly because of live coverage. In fact the 2 biggest football codes in Australia have enjoyed record TV ratings and attendance. So why is it different? Because nothing beats the match day experience at the ground.
Sure I am looking at this through rose coloured glasses and I understand the limitations of the current broadcast agreements. In my opinion, the biggest problem with the current broadcast agreement is that the football authorities have also fallen for rvenue bottom line. I guarantee that things would have been commpletly different if the SPL had agreed a deal with the BBC all those years ago.
By giving into Setanta/Sky et al they gave up the thing they really needed the most - access to fans. If games were on the BBC then the potential audience reach would be much higher, access for fans is much cheaper and easier.
So, in summary, blaming broadcast agreements for all the illls achieves nothing, focusing on the match day experience is everything.
If you were to give 100 monkeys 100 typewriters (computers that didn’t need electricity for the younger viewers) I would be willing to bet they would come up with a better plan for league reconstruction than the ones currently on offer.
Before I look deeper into these I first wanted to look at the reasons given for league reconstruction to see how we got here.
When the SFA/SFL/SPL and any other alphabet soup of organisations released a joint statement last year they provided the following reasons for league reconstruction:
Better distribution of income in the game
Increased competitiveness and;
The first 2 are no-brainers but I couldn’t get my head around the last 2. How can a governing body have much influence of the competitiveness and entertainment value of clubs?
My question was answered with the 12-12-18 plan that becomes an 8-8-8-18 plan later in the season. Increased competitiveness because it would appear that it is all to play for in the top and second divisions. Increased entertainment because the bottom 4 clubs of the top division and the top 4 clubs of the second division will play sparkling football to gain promotion or guard against relegation.
Of course this is complete rubbish. Firstly let’s deal with the competitiveness issue. At the start of each season clubs in the second division have second division budgets and top division clubs have top division budgets. This inequity is even more likely to play out at the end of the season when top division clubs with their larger squads will more than likely out-gun their lower division rivals on a home/away league basis. The lower division clubs would have more success in a 2 leg play off system. So instead of increased competitiveness, you are more likely to see the same teams in the top division with minimal change. It will actually make promotion/relegation less likely.
Better entertainment? I’m not convinced. A relegation/promotion race in itself is not necessarily entertaining. To play entertaining football teams must be encouraged to play entertaining football. A relegation battle will see too many 4-1-4-1 or similar formations. Hardly the stuff of attacking entertaining football.
Oe thing there won't be is an entertaining race to see who wins Division 2. A can,t find an explanation for who would be Div 2 champions.
The other plan put forward was 16-10-16. This won't happen for many reasons but just 2 will do. Firstly, the current SPL clubs won't go for it mainly because it will reduce their income significantly. Not only because of TV money will be divided by 16 instead of 12 but theiir income wiil also reduce because there will be less games to generate attendance income.
I actually have the answer, but nobody will like it. The biggest issue in Scottish football is too many teams and not enough money. Now since there are limited avenues for increasing revenue (though I will admit that costs can be reduced having one governing body - another bllog for another day) the number of teams shouldbe reduced. The only commercially viable structure in 10-10-10. There is no waya country this size of Scotland can afford 42 professional/semi-professional football teams.
Any leage reconstruction willl have winners and losers. Nobody wants to be the loser and as a result self preservation will result in a half a*sed league reconstruction that will please nobody.
So out of the 4 reasons provided for league construction,a grand total of zero have been met. Well done.
PS Would you buy a season ticket if there was a possibility we would by playing the final part of the season against Div 1 teams?
Firstly a disclaimer: I do not want this to happen and if it does happen it will prove once and for all that the people running Scottish Football are morally corrupt. But in saying that I am certain this is going to happen. Govan Rangers will take their place in the 2012/2013 SPL season they will have a mostly blue kit and play out of Ibrox.
Why am I so certain of this? Because the SPL has form. The SPL has set up as a commercial entity to generate as much income for the league as possible at the expense of lower leagues. Since they didn’t have the best interests of Scottish Football at heart then, why should we expect it now?
In 2002 the SPL politely declined Sky’s offer 45 million pounds because they thought they would get a better offer, as we know they didn’t. The consequences were that the total debt of all the SPL clubs in 2001/02 was 132 million pounds. Rangers debt could blow out to 134 million pounds , to quote the great bard Alanis Morrisette – “isn’t it ironic?”.
That commercial decision ended up costing money and contributed (not entirely though) to administration of Motherwell, Livingston and Dundee. Let’s be clear, these three clubs need to take the bulk of responsibility for administration. Especially Dundee. A league without Rangers would very likely see the same happen.
Fast forward to 2012 and the SPL now find themselves making another very important decision. Here are the options available to them:
Rangers are liquidated, and 2 teams from Division 1 are promoted. This will result in the current TV deal to become null and void because the contract stipulates 3 old firm games per season. That means 13 million pounds less, per season, will be available to the clubs. The TV money distributed for finishing 10th is 600 000 pounds. Without the TV deal that is 600 000 pounds less that ICT would have coming in. This would have a devastating effect on the club.
TV companies pay that money to show Old Firm games and games involving the Celtic or Rangers.This is a commercial reality.TV companies would walk away or offer a vastly reduced offer.My instinct is they would walk away.
My personal belief is this is the best option from a purely football and football fan perspective, but it comes with huge risks.There would be huge financial pain and clubs like Hibs, Kilmarnock, Hearts and possibly ICT may find the conditions very challenging.Some people may say we survived relegation; we did thanks to a parachute payment which wouldn’t be available without the TV cash.This would be a sudden and possibly catastrophic reduction in the League major source of income.
I have heard the argument that we survived before TV money and we can survive without it.Yes we can, but like any business their expenditure would be based on an anticipated amount of revenue.To bring budgets back would require large scale player and staff redundancies.
Govan Rangers are admitted to the SPL. This would appease the broadcasters and would maintain the income levels of the game to a point. The big downside for this is that it sends the message that if you don’t want to pay your bills, just liquidate and you will be invited back into the league. This is a dangerous precedent and will risk alienating fans.
The rebel 10 clubs also know this is going to happen which is why they are making noises about income splitting and voting rights. Because they really hold Govan Rangers’ survival in their hands and they should ask a very high price.
I believe this will happen because this is typical of the type of short term decision making that the SPL is famous for. Just like the Sky decision, and just like the Sky decision it will be wrong.
2 July 2012 - Update:
In this blog I made the following statement "TV companies pay that money to show Old Firm games and games involving the Celtic or Rangers.This is a commercial reality.TV companies would walk away or offer a vastly reduced offer.My instinct is they would walk away."
The following link provides the viewing audience numbers for ESPN/Sky for the SPL. The audience drops by more than 60% for games that do not involve Celtic or Rangers (or the Edinburgh derby).