Time to think inside the box!

As Rangers fate regarding entry into the SPL seems to be decided, the vexed question of TV money and its importance to football is being strongly debated. At a time, when Sky and BT decided the EPL is worth a mind boggling £3 billion plus, there have been many opinions offered  about how the reported £80mil five year SKY deal will be affected if Rangers find themselves out of the SPL, and how that would impact Scottish football.

To offer some perspective, I draw some viewing information from “IFM Sports Marketing Surveys 2010-11 SCOTTISH PREMIER LEAGUE | CLYDESDALE BANK Q3 Audience Report”. It covers 40 live SPL games covered on Sky and ESPN.

The highest match audiences belong to the three Old Firm games, 894,032,828,373 and 641,960. Outside of the Old Firm matches, the next highest belongs to an ICT v Rangers game, 323,368 and then a Motherwell v Celtic game which came in at 260,966. Only three other games, which do not involve either Rangers or Celtic, rise above 100,000. They are, two Edinburgh derbies, 124,476 and 115,982 and a St Mirren v Hibs fixture that commanded 218,223. The reason that this game had such an audience was that it followed an Old Firm game. The lowest audience belonged to a Kilmarnock v Motherwell match which was watched by only 30,580.

These figures would seem to explain why the SKY deal is based on there being four Old Firm matches. It also makes clear how important Rangers and Celtic are to the overall viewing figures. Considering the prospect of SKY modifying the current deal should Rangers exit the SPL, the BBC’s Jim Spence stated that it “frankly lacks sporting integrity if that's the case." Arrant nonsense, it is just business. SKY has a commercial responsibility to offer a price that reflects what it is worth to them. It is based on viewing figures and advertising revenue. I am perplexed as to why anyone would think it was anything else.

There have been some twee and unrealistic takes on why Scottish football would flourish without TV money. A romantic picture is painted of big crowds returning in their droves to Saturday 3pm kick offs. Why? Outside Celtic and Rangers, most SPL clubs have lower attendances now than two years ago. Rangers and Celtic, the clubs who are featured most frequently in the TV games, retain their crowds. Why would supporters return to the ground simply because one half of the Old Firm did not have a televised game on the following day when they don’t go to the games now?  It simply does not stack up. Is it indicative of something more sinister, some vindictive PR to convince other supporters that Rangers exclusion from the SPL and now the SFL and the reduction of TV money would be a good thing?  

The Arab Trust is being particularly vocal. For them to advocate what effectively is a sharp reduction in TV money to their clubs is baffling. It is surely a worry when the chairman has to appeal to fans to support the decision that he advocates? According to Jim Spence, Aberdeen were suggesting they are losing season tickets sales because of fans unease over a possible “newco” entry. This turned out to be untrue, but Aberdeen’s average attendances have dropped by over three and half thousand fans over the last few seasons according to ESPNsoccernet stats. Why do they think that a Rangers free SPL with less TV money is going to bring the crowds back and improve the club? It is also worth highlighting that things like shirt sponsorship, corporate entertainment and trackside advertising are linked with TV exposure. 

It is also worth remembering the debacle of the SPL Setanta deal. John Reid, the Celtic chairman, was livid that despite Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen imploring the other clubs to reject the Setanta offer, the SPL clubs went with it. That decision cost Celtic £12 mil over the course of the deal when Setanta collapsed and SKY/ESPN came in with what was described as a derisory £65 mil. That was a lot less that they originally offered when competing against Setanta and hence the massive loss of income that irked John Reid and cost every team in the SPL so much money. This not only displays Sky’s commercial nous but demonstrates the SPL’s ability to make some really poor decisions.

If you read this as a plea to let Rangers into the SPL then please don’t. Nor is it an attack on other teams. I would much rather have strong SPL challenging the Old Firm in a competitive SPL than a boring non event where one team canters to the title. However, with Rangers not allowed into the SPL then consider the following. As the SPL struggles with reduced TV money, a debt free Rangers could go to the third division with a galvanised support behind them. They would be free to do some TV deal and may earn more money than most teams in the SPL on a reduced SKY deal. There is then the possibility of Rangers returning to the SPL as the most financially viable club with some SPL teams struggling and possibly looking at or being in administration. Such a scenario would also help to improve the finances of SFL clubs. How many times do you read of a smaller club drawing Rangers and the chairman talks about how the windfall will secure his club for x years?  So if you are urging a no to a Newco simply because you are keen to inflict damage on Rangers or you think it may destroy them, you may want to think again.

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