Last week, Sky and ESPN extended their current deal for TV coverage of Scottish Premier League matches for the next five-and-a-half seasons, and at a higher price: £16m per season, 25% above the current rate. The Scottish Premier League’s chief executive, Neil Doncaster, hailed the package as “excellent news” for Scottish football clubs.
This continued stability, this mild increase in revenue, this moderately larger likelihood of attracting a new sponsor for the SPL to replace Clydesdale Bank, has simply postponed a day of reckoning for Scottish football. Like the debt commission in Washington DC, like the endless rounds of talks on saving the Euro, this is just kicking the can down the road and avoiding a big question. The topic here: will Scottish football ever change?
As things stand, there will be no challenge to the Old Firm, because there’s not enough in the pot to clean up Hearts’ debts, or to make Aberdeen solidly profitable, or to make Hibs not a laughing stock.
There will be no new investors north of the border, because there isn’t enough TV juice to seduce a sugar daddy, and no prospect of a big bump in the near future.
There will be no league restructuring, because there’s not enough extra cash to allow it to be divvied up among more teams.
There will be no progress made on the McLeish report agenda, because the funding needs suggested by the former First Minister – £50m per year over ten years – is way in excess of what anyone wants to pay for Scottish football, so taxpayer money or corporate sponsorship is still needed to make that happen.
There is just enough money to let the game limp along, so we’ll have five more years of the same old, which includes at least four Old Firm games every year – because that’s what TV wants. And these days, what TV wants, TV gets. (Friday evening kickoffs, anyone?)
Last week I speculated (if that’s the right word) about Beckham buying an underperforming Scottish club, and, well, it’s not entirely a bad idea. It would be one way to break the current impasse, and it could result in a virtuous circle: more media interest, a challenge to the Glasgow duopoly, an enticement to invest in Hearts or Hibs or Dundee United. Real money could then find its way into youth academies and coaching and new facilities as crowds go back up and everyone gets a share of a significantly larger TV pie.
But is this pie coming from Sky, or just pie in the sky?
Probably the latter. But if anyone has Donald Trump’s number, give him a call: he’s the sort of guy that might be interested. It would repair his reputation in Aberdeen, and he does know a thing or two about property development. Pittodrie rebranded as “Trump World Stadium”. I bet he’d like the sound of that.