Upon the League rejecting Sky Sports £45m television deal to broadcast SPL matches from 2002 onwards, Scottish football effectively changed as we’d known it!
A fleeting relationship with Setanta Sports did nothing but delay the inevitable outcome of our league becoming one of the poorest in World football.
Some may ask ‘Has it not always been poor though?’, and the answer is in equivocal ‘No!’, as the Scottish League has produced some of the greatest players and teams to grace the game.
So where did it all go wrong?
In an SPL office in 2002 when Lex Gold and his trusty associates rejected a lucrative yet reliable deal from Sky in the hope another ‘more substantial’ offer would come from elsewhere.
So, with no Sky there effectively would be no football, as the standard of play has declined so dramatically since the 2002/03 season.
The Old Firm for example boasted talent like Ronald De Boer, Barry Ferguson, Henrik Larsson and John Hartson among many others.
Now, no disrespect to the top players at the moment, but outside Nikica Jelavic, Steven Naismith, Gary Hooper and Emilio Izaguirre, there is a real lack of quality in depth.
It isn’t just the case for the Old Firm where the standard of player has dropped. Where once teams like Hearts, Hibs, Motherwell and Dundee Utd could all attract high quality players, they now find themselves struggling to match Conference and League 2 sides in England in terms of wages and transfer fees’.
Like most business’, money talks and without a steady, reliable source of income from TV sponsorship the SPL has been unable to develop as it should have.
The English Premier League is the prime example of TV money, from Sky more significantly, allowing their game to reach a whole new level, leading the League to become the most-watched and equally attractive game in world football.
Where England has prospered, Scotland has suffered and this has affected our attendances, standard of player, how we are perceived worldwide, and our National team performances.
10 years ago (while sponsored by Sky), the SPL’s average attendance was 16,000. Now, a decade on it has sunk to a mere 13,500, as well as the record low being set in 2010/11 of 2,019 between Hamilton Accies and Inverness.
Quite simply, full stadiums make for better atmospheres, and a combination of better quality on the park as well as affordable ticket prices mean attendances should improve.
Two years ago the SPL returned to Sky viewers screens after an 8 year hiatus, a turnaround of events which seemed unlikely when both organisations parted ways 10 years ago.
The deal made in 2010 was worth £13m to each club per season, but is still comparably less than what they could have been earning had the SPL continued to improve from the early 2000s onwards.
How do we fix it then?
Well, I propose first of all, the League set-up being changed completely.
At the moment, teams play each other 4 times, culminating in 33 matches before the league splits in to a bottom and top 6.
One team win the Championship and qualify for the Champions League Play-Off, and the 2nd and 3rd placed teams qualify for the Europa League, with the Scottish Cup winners alongside them. One team is relegated…are you bored yet?
Frankly, the League format just isn’t attractive enough and as I mentioned, this is one of the contributing factors to our terrible decline.
The need to expand the SPL is evident. Forget any proposals for an SPL 1 & 2, there is a real need to increase the number of clubs in the league to either 16 or 18 teams and with that the SPL will generate a new vibrancy and excitement.
I’m sure even the most avid St.Mirren fan would agree that there is only so many times they could watch their team play against Inverness or St.Johnstone, and to subject most fans to that at least 4 times a season makes for a bored, unmotivated and uninspired support.
This paves the way for well-supported, capable teams like Partick Thistle, Falkirk, Dundee and Hamilton to play in the top division again.
Established clubs like this would contribute so much in terms of attendances, performances, young talent and also add to a League which has very few ‘Derby’ games.
The monotony which comes from clubs playing against each other 4 times a season would be lost, with less games between more teams.
Also, an introduction of play-offs could see two teams be relegated from the League each season. This would offer more of an incentive for clubs in the First Division to make a conscientious effort to make it to the SPL.
Without doubt the League has potential, but sadly it just isn’t realising that potential under the current format.
Henry McLeish underlined the problems our game faces but did not offer many realistic solutions in how to fix it.
Scottish football was once on a similar playing field to our competitors south of the border, and it is about time radical change was made to bridge the ever-growing gap between our League and the rest of Europe.
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