With the abysmal TV contract which, as highlighted yesterday, actually costs some clubs money and as we all know massively inconveniences fans, there are those who argue Scottish football should abandon TV and return all games to Saturday 3pm. The argument does have some rational behind it – if the tv deal is going to be that poor ditch it and at least give certainty of kick off to those who pay at the gate…but football needs tv and tv needs football. It is about getting the right balance.
It may seem counter intuitive to many but the evidence is clear; across Europe the more football there is on tv the better match day attendances. Well-produced new media is a fantastic marketing tool for live sport.
At the end of the 19th century newspapers needed something to cover now that the masses were starting to read them and spectator sport (including football) was born. Attendances began to level out as we went into the 1920’s & then along came the wireless and crowds surged again. Immediately post war crowds increased and that was supplemented by the coming of the new television age. We then saw the digital tv age with satellite broadcasters in the early 90’s and we saw a massive boom in attendances across Europe. Since then this digital age has continued to evolve with new technology resulting in every aspect of our lives being filmed and broadcast. It is therefore not TV that is the issue, but the quality of production and marketing of that TV product.
Sky have spent so much on the EPL that it is in effect their product. The problem with this is that SKY and BT are no longer observers of the English game, they are more like the parent companies. In that respect, they have become no different to Celtic TV – criticism of the product cannot ever be aired. A policy understandable for Celtic TV but more pernicious when looking at broadcasters with their economic might, because not only does protecting at all costs prevent criticism it also means protectionism.
The EPL is the most important product with the Champions League coming in second and then the Championship, everything else after that is about protecting the brand and keeping competitors out. That, in my opinion, explains everything about the Scottish TV package – Sky haven’t bought it to enhance and develop our game…Sky have bought it to lock competitors out of getting a foothold in UK football coverage. It is a “needs must” for protectionist reasons and it costs Sky the minimum they can get away with.
As Sean Huddleston illustrates in this excellent piece, Sky are currently paying half of market value. Super League gets very similar average viewing figures to SPFL (although peak viewing figures are superior for Scottish football) yet Sky pay SuperLeague £25m more per season.
So how does SPFL deal with Rugby League and Rugby Union obtaining double Scottish football’s level for similar or inferior viewing figures? How do we get market value?
Therein lies the problem…we have no market. As stated, I believe Sky acquire our rights to prevent another Setanta (this time one with a working business model). BT went straight in at big boy level and the terrestrial broadcasters who should be competing at this level (STV & BBC) won’t. Negotiating without a market is difficult, which begs the question – how do we create a market?
The first option is to just have the balls to threaten to walk away. You decide what you want your product to be (kick off times, control retained by the league, appropriate highlights package etc) and you have the balls to walk away if they won’t offer what we need.
The second option would be to follow the Super League example and change the calendar. Sky have a surplus of August to May football so Super League changed their calendar to provide Sky with a football demographic over the summer.
The third option is to go it alone and create SPFL TV. That may mean a channel on Sky or it may mean some online streaming content channel. Both of these are dangerous options (especially the latter) as one of the problems with Sky and BBC coverage at present is the exceptionally poor production quality. Investment would be needed in this that would no doubt require the financial support of the league – failure of this channel and the whole game could be stuffed. Additionally contracts such as our Magners and New Balance deals will no doubt, in part, be predicated on Celtic being on the main TV platforms in the UK and such sponsors may not be pleased with a bespoke go-it alone option. Additionally we’d have to beware of becoming and even greater irrelevance with a game no-one watches.
Our current TV contract isn’t working. With Sky our games are slotted in to fill a hole between major EPL fixtures. BT Sport have tried to offer better production and presenters and looked at Friday night games however the financial recompense is insufficient. Scottish football does have a highlights package, but there is so much wrong with it on scheduling, production and fees paid as to almost make it detrimental to our game. We appear to be tied in to this shambles but if there is ANY scope for cancelling the contract, any get out clause, the SPFL need to find it.