Thursday, January 27, 2011

SPL TV: Here We Go Again

Another day, another SPL brainwave.

This time it's the idea of an SPL TV channel. The SPL have drafted in IMG Media to look into the feasibility of launching their own channel. Not a new idea but an idea apparently reborn in the last few weeks.

Let us then applaud the SPL for exploring all avenues. And also kudos for the choice of IMG. Love them or loathe them IMG have, whatever Sky might claim, probably had more of an impact on the monetisation of sport than anyone else.

Ever since Mark McCormack first supped cocktails with Arnold Palmer, IMG have made the money roll in.

But I still think this is a stupid idea. Totally and utterly stupid.

Certainly, I suspect SPL chief excutive Neil Doncaster is "at it". I repeatedly said he that couldn't back up his claim that a ten team SPL was more attractive to broadcasters.

Surely the idea of an SPL channel suggests that the clubs themselves don't have much confidence in their continued ability to lure broadcasters.

We're told that other countries are doing the same or considering doing the same.

And that is also true. France are on the road already, with the second tier league being used as a guinea pig.

The French model will see the channel available as a paid for addition to the existing channels when France switches to digital TV.

Would that be the SPL model? It's not as simple as just setting up a channel and claiming a spot on Top-Up TV, a service that already carries Sky Sports and ESPN.

The Dutch already have Eredivisie Live. Would that be the model we chose to replicate?

It might be a struggle if we did. Based on their subscriber numbers (around 475,000 in autumn 2010) and an entirely unscientific extrapolation of those figures we could estimate 140,000 subscribers for a Scottish model.

That would tie in with the SPL viewing figures that Setanta limped on with until they were put out of their misery. But those figures for Setanta were from the season when they had English Premier League football as well.

There is scant evidence to suggest that SPL TV would prove much of hit in England where Sky and ESPN have the live TV market just about sewn up.

Eredivisie Live has bolstered its output with the FA Cup, Europa League and England internationals.

All those are readily available to Scottish viewers on either free to air channels or established subscription channels. It's simply not a market in which SPL TV could hope to compete.

Perhaps more pertinently Ajax are making fairly strong signals that they don't consider the €4 million they earn from Eredivisie Live enough and that they hope to pull out of the deal.

The plan in Amsterdam is to sell TV rights for Ajax matches separately.

Just imagine SPL TV wasn't a success? What would there then be to stop Rangers and Celtic negotiating their own TV rights?

And would the ordinary Scottish fan be willing to pay yet more money to watch Scottish football?

Would the overseas revenues come rolling in? Maybe we could consider North America and Australia as our biggest potential markets. SPL TV would not exactly be the biggest fish in any of those ponds.

Because we shouldn't kid ourselves that it's a blockbuster product. Perhaps before reimagining himself as a tartan clad Charles Foster Kane, Neil Doncaster should address the dearth of quality on the pitch.

In all of this you get the impression that the SPL are running around trying to recover from the trauma of Setanta's collapse. But the best way to recover from that disaster is not to chase another pie in the sky dream.

Of course, this is all just at the exploratory stage. IMG have made millions from seeing financial opportunity where others have seen only oddly dressed young men doing funny things with balls.

We can only hope that they can also spot an enormous folly when they see one.

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