The SPL shake up

Football crowd

Back in March 2010, the Scottish Premier League chief executive, Neil Doncaster, announced that he was looking into a shake up of the current SPL setup. For years there has been a growing discontent among fans, so to finally hear the man at the top of the SPL acknowledge this, was refreshing. It was clear that plans were at a very early stage when Doncaster briefly outlined a couple of potential changes.

“We have been talking to supporters and there does seem to be some desire to freshen things up,”

“That could mean more teams in the SPL but we have to be open to all ideas.

“The play-offs in the Football League have been a tremendous success and innovations like that can create much in terms of excitement and revenue.”

Of the two suggestions, the introductions of a play off system is the easiest to implement, especially when the positives far outweigh any negatives, in fact, I cant think of any negatives.

There are a number of possible implementations of a play off system, but the most likely would involve second bottom of the SPL, playing in a play off with 2nd, 3rd and 4th place from division one, which could be referred to as the second tier. With the addition of the playoffs, it would lead to clubs fighting it out for 2nd, 3rd and 4th place, when they might otherwise have had nothing to play for in the last few games.

Not only will play offs lead to a more competitive league, but it could also provide an additional source of income. Gate receipts are a given, but there is also the potential for some T.V. revenue. I personally doubt that a big player like Sky would be interested from day one, but this could be where the BBC, either BBC Scotland or BBC Alba, might be interested. This might even be a chance to explore pay per view on the internet for each of the individual matches. England tried it against Ukraine in 2009 and there were objections, but times have changed and many more fans are now accustomed to watching games online, in the form of illegal streams, which are nowhere near the quality that an official online broadcast could be.

A recent survey, run by Supporters Direct, reported that 77% of consulted fans were in favour of an increased league of either 16 or 18 teams – so if the paying public want it, then who can argue with that? Increasing the league would likely put an end to the monotony of the same clubs playing each other 4 times in a season. For example, this season we are going to see Rangers play Celtic at least 5 times! Having teams only play each other home and away would add an extra bit of spice to the encounter and increase gate receipts, especially when the fans have already stated that it’s what they want.

In addition to the potential for increased gate receipts, a larger league would provide more matches per match day and I think this could be used to allow more televised games, while still retaining a number of Saturday 3pm kick offs. These games could be split into packages in a similar way as the English Premiership does it, with the packages split into 1st, 2nd or 3rd choice on each match day. Obviously the 1st choice would be the most profitable, with the two Old Firm games included, and would be targeted by Sky, but I can see a market for the other packages from broadcasters such as ESPN, or even the terrestrial channels, BBC and STV.

The SPL split has become a very contentious subject in recent years, especially concerning the imbalance of home and away ties that it inevitably causes and a larger league could spell the end of this. Every year we hear Old Firm fans cry foul as one team is giving an extra home game against Hearts, or whoever is seen as the latest threat. Neil Doncaster is always quick to tell us that the split is the reason for the title race going to the wire in recent years, but I personally can see no link. To me, the split only leads to a number of meaningless games for those unfortunate enough to fall just below the split line. I remember Motherwell ending the last few games of the season knowing they couldn’t go any higher than the artificial ceiling of 7th place and they couldn’t drop down a place. Is that an exciting end to the season?

Fast forward ten months and representatives of all 12 SPL clubs have met and an agreement, in principle, has been made to build a ten team SPL1 and a twelve team SPL2. You are probably asking yourself the same question I did; what happened to the larger league that Doncaster originally proposed? The larger league was one of the first potential ideas to be discounted in this process, as Doncaster described it as being financial suicide. Neil Doncaster quotes a loss of £1 million for every club in the SPL if the league was increased and the games against each team were reduced to 2 games. The main reason for this is the loss of 2 home games against the Old Firm, which so many teams rely on each season. Unfortunately this argument was enough to ensure that the fans views were ignored.

What do I think of the proposals? My initial reaction involved some choice words that I won’t repeat here but, put it this way it is not what I had hoped for.

I had been a strong fan of the larger league and would be inclined to go that way, even with the financial implications described by Mr Doncaster. I believe that the financial hit that is mentioned is a very short term view and the potential is there for an increase in the actual income.  Perhaps I am being naive in terms of the TV deal and perhaps the SPL have had an indication that television companies wouldn’t be interested in the smaller packages, but at the time of writing, the SPL have not provided full details of their new proposal and how they came to that decision, so I can only surmise. However much I feel let down by the new proposal, one thing I can take as a massive positive is the likely demise of the dreaded mid season split.

C Adey

Owner of Scottish Football Forums. A fan of all forms of football, whether its being at the game, watching on TV, playing 7 a side, playing FIFA, playing Football Manager, or simply talking about it