I personally am a fan of a top league of 16. Play each other twice and make up the shortfall in games by returning to group stages in the league cup. I appreciate that this then halves the number of visits from the big Glasgow clubs but hey – we’re often told by the diddy teams that they don’t need us!
Top 16 and revamped League Cup
As part of return to a top 16, as mentioned above I would re-introduce group stages in the League cup with the competition commencing in late July. This would facilitate the early return requested on footballing grounds (to prepare our clubs for Europe) but is really desired for financial reasons to get money in the door asap after the close season. The benefit of group stages to us would be that we have some scope for losing, so we could play young players whilst giving any internationalists who may have been at World Cups, Nation Cups or just playing for their national side in June, a longer break from competitive domestic games.
If you wanted to be really radical with the competition you could play the games over a short period like these pre-season tournaments we participate in – 7 groups across 6 stadiums in Scotland, 2 matches a day with all the money pooled, top 7 qualify with a play-off among the best runners up. It would be good for TV and with groups drawn geographically fans wouldn’t be travelling far during school holidays. The League cup last 8 could be decided by the start of the league season and with fewer league games, quarters, semi’s and the final could ALL be played on weekend dates. Organising matters in this way also allows the league to re-introduce a winter break.
If the answer to this is that the League Cup cannot compensate for the loss of league games and would be a waste of time – WHY DO WE HAVE IT AT ALL?
As for the league? I’d re-introduce the winter break. It’s not about the weather as these past few years have illustrated we could have a winter with snow anytime from November to March or (as we’ve had for most of the last 20 years in the central belt) virtually no snow at all. The purpose of the winter break is to give the players a break, but more importantly give the fans and their pockets a break. With an SPL 2 of only 10 teams, I’d have the bottom team go down and then a play off between the next 3 and second top of SPL 2 for who plays in SPL1 the following campaign. Again for a radical approach we could copy the Dutch and have top of the table as Champions with the next 4 teams playing off for 2nd (Although this may not have such excitement if second has no real European advantage over 3rd).
I appreciate that dropping to 30 league games (plus play-offs and increased league cup games) is unlikely to happen as our financially challenged clubs scrape from one season to the next, but I do believe that a 14 team top league with a 12 team second tier could provide much of the change we fans want whilst also INCREASING potential revenue to current SPL clubs.
Two Leagues of 14 & 12
Despite the problems towards the end of a season of not knowing the last 5 fixtures in advance, there is some merit to the split. It gives mid-table teams something to play for mid-season and ensures that those teams fighting for the title or against relegation are playing teams in a similar situation. A league of 14 can maintain that but also do it in a customer orientated manner by having the next round of fixtures after a winter break.
In a league of 14, teams would play each other twice (26 games) then split. By splitting into a top 6 and bottom 8, the bottom sides are compensated for having two less home visits by Celtic & Rangers with extra games. Additionally bringing in play-offs with top teams from SPL2 would also generate additional revenue. Moreover by having the first round of 26 games prior to a split, fans would have a month of advanced knowledge of the next round of games. For further fan assistance in planning you could also guarantee that after the split all “Super Six” games would have a set kick off time eg Sunday 2pm with bottom 8 Saturday at 12:30pm.
Creating two leagues in this manner would surely give the top 26 sides in the country greater financial security. The teams in SPL 2 would have 44 games to generate match day income. Teams in the top 6 would have 4 matches against Celtic and Rangers. For the bottom 8 in SPL1 would have 20 home games guaranteed (at present and in a league of 10 they are GUARANTEED only 18). There would also be play-offs. With bottom SPL1 & top of SPL2 trading places, play-offs could be introduced for the 2nd placed SPL2 side and the bottom 3. Pooling that money with all bottom 8 and top 2 of SPL2 would surely compensate for any lost revenue from Celtic/Rangers games. In all of this however I suspect that the greatest win would be in TV income.
In all of the discussions from Doncaster regarding a top league of 10 he stresses that the TV companies are only interested in showing matches involving Celtic & Rangers. Under this proposal the 4 “Old Firm” games remain along with a further 16 away league games for Celtic and the same for Rangers – the same number as would be with a top league of 10. This therefore leaves scope for selling two TV deals for Scottish football which would secure more revenue for all clubs than changing to a top 10?
With two leagues of 14 & 12 it would surely be possible to sell (at least 2) TV contracts;
For SPL1 fixtures up to the split which would consist of 13 away games for Celtic & Rangers with 2 “Old Firm” games. After the split, this contract would only cover the “Super Six” (or some other marketing name) which would have the remaining “Old Firm” games.
Whilst less appealing, this contract could offer all SPL2 fixtures pre-split, with SPL2 and bottom 8 (I can’t think of a sexy marketing name for this group) fixtures post-split, INCLUDING play-off games. Something innovative could also be trialled for this contract such as Friday night kick offs etc.
It would be fair to assume that the combined sum of these two contracts (or even 3 with further splits of either contract) would offer a better deal than the league could negotiate for a top 10?
As a supporter I am fed up with the current set up. I would prefer a move away from playing sides 4 times a season. I believe that it would make our football better for young stars who currently stagnate after a season or so in the top flight when every player knows them so well they could tell you their inside leg measurement. I also believe that it would not be the financial disaster many claim. At present grounds like Rugby Park and Fir Park are half empty when we come to play. Even Easter Road and Pittodrie have thousands of empty seats in the home end. One visit per season and we are more likely to have full away grounds. With costs of double policing and stewarding do Aberdeen make more money from two 12,000 capacities when we visit or one 22,000 sell out?
I accept however that this may be too much of a gamble, but surely a top league of 14 would be a good half-way house. We wouldn’t have to play every team in the top flight 4 times, plus four more teams would get Celtic & Rangers revenue than from a top flight of 10 – is this not the sharing of wealth the smaller fans continually ask us to do?
In addition to these games versus us and the additional revenue from play offs, surely the key to this is TV revenue. Neil Doncaster states it’s “Old Firm” fixtures that TV wants and only by giving them a top ten can Scottish football give TV what it wants. Really?
I cannot see how the scenario above does not give TV what he claims it wants – AND MORE. If he can sell a top 10 but can’t sell that I really wonder.
Are there no sales people at the SPL?