Thursday, November 24, 2011

SPL: Eighty million reasons to be cheerful

80 million quid.

Not be sniffed at. Five years of stability at a time of economic uncertainty.

So well done to the SPL on the signing of their new TV deal?

Not exactly.

£16 million a season (that's the figure being widely reported) for 60 live games. 30 games a season on ESPN and 30 more, Old Firm jamborees included, on Sky.

Two TV "giants" committed to our game, said the SPL's chief executive Neil Doncaster.

Two TV giants who don't rate our game enough to get involved in a bidding war that would artificially inflate the price, says I.

Doncaster also spoke of a "28 percent" rise in viewing figures. That's a positive. But across 60 live games the average viewing figures hover around the 160,000 mark (the final Old Firm game of last season was Sky's first one million-plus in-home audience for a Scottish domestic fixture).

Which might explain why that 28 percent figure hasn't been matched by a 28 percent rise in the value of the original Sky/ESPN TV contract signed a couple of seasons ago.

Those viewing figures also suggest that the idea of a stand-alone SPL TV channel was, as I've long argued, a non-starter - even accounting for Doncaster's disingenuous aside about the success of such a venture in Holland.

We must accept any rise with a degree of thankfulness. But we might also cast an envious eye around Europe.

Comparisons with the English Premier League are always bad for our health. But Belgium, Poland and Switzerland offer three examples of recent TV deals that are more lucrative than our own.

The new SPL deal doesn't measure up to the ill fated Setanta deal but nor does it come close to the offer Sky put on the table at the same time, the deal that was championed by Rangers, Celtic and Aberdeen.

On that occasion greed proved our undoing. But one man's bankruptcy is another's opportunity. Sky have now got seven years worth of Old Firm games - all they really want - for less than they bid when Setanta trumped them.

Accountants and bank managers might offer wan smiles of gratitude.

The money will come in. Peter can again go hungry to save Paul from malnutrition.

Make no mistake, this deal is far from being big enough to cure our woes, the cash is welcome but hardly the financial balm we need.

By making the league more attractive to exposure hungry sponsors the deal should also help entice someone to fill Clydesdale Bank's shoes at the end of next season.

That will be another source valuable of revenue but, again, hardly a huge one even if it improves on the contract offered by Clydesdale.

Stability then. Nothing more. That's the extent of this new deal.

And the downside of being smugly satisfied with stability is the closing of minds to meaningful change.

It seems certain that this new deal will tie us to a 12 team league, guarantee the survival of the SPL split, one relegation/promotion place, a continued lack of funds being funnelled down the divisions and more of those kick-off times that are so unpopular with supporters.

None of that offers much promise for reversing declining attendances.

In which light the TV deal seems to offer some short-term gain coupled with the window dressing required to ignore the problems of long term decline.

I'd be amazed if we get through the next five years without more of our top flight clubs becoming embroiled in some cash crisis or another.

I'll also be surprised if we see any great improvement on the product on the park. And don't hold your breath for any constructive attempts to wrestle with the problem of ticket prices.

The rub here is that, operating almost completely in fear of a total financial collapse, there were no other options but to accept this TV deal.

The real shame is that the game won't be saved by people acting in fear. Not much positive will come from that.

So here's to Neil Doncaster as the saviour of the SPL, here's to the next five years promising more of the same, here's to more uncertainty and barely contained decline.

At least it will all be televised.

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