A fairer share from the BBC, or we’re keeping our football

Date: 18th May 2015

Once again, Scottish football and its fans are getting short-changed, writes Ben Ramage. What makes it worse is that this time it is by our own national broadcaster, the BBC.

The BBC’s director of sport Barbara Slater openly admitted that there was inequality between the right monies paid for English and Scottish football at a conference last week. And she certainly wasn’t wrong.

The facts are staggering. The English Premier League just signed a bumper new deal with the BBC for £68million a year, which will run from 2016 until 2019. The SPFL currently receives around £1m per year.

Considering that Scottish viewers make up a tenth of license fee payments to the BBC, and the BBC remains Scotland’s national broadcaster, this is totally unacceptable.

Ralph Topping, the SPFL League chairman, was quick to accuse the BBC of discriminating against Scottish football in the wake of the comments, rightly pointing out that the current disparity between the deals is indefensible.

Topping also used Gary Lineker’s salary as a stark case in point, as the former England striker receives over double the amount of money a year than the whole of Scottish football does from the BBC for the rights to highlights. This would be laughable if it wasn’t so significant.

Following Topping, SPFL board member Mike Mulraney urged Scottish clubs to scrap the BBC TV deal altogether, accusing the Beeb of openly admitting the inequality between the countries and refusing to accept their claim that Scottish football doesn’t merit a bigger portion of funding.

While his call seems bold at first, it’s actually a very informed one. The SPFL currently earns around £16m a year from Sky and BT Sport for live coverage of games — over 16 times the amount received from the BBC for highlights packages. Could we survive without the meagre scraps from the BBC’s executive director’s table? Of course we could.

We could receive even more money from these two media giants if they were offered exclusive highlights packages, which would force the BBC’s hand. Either pay us what we deserve, or risk losing us altogether.

The BBC argue that sports rights market drives the prices of rights, and that they have to pay that much to secure EPL rights because that’s what the majority of its audience wants to watch. They also point to Scottish viewers wishing to watch the Match of the Day as well as Sportscene.

England is a bigger country with a larger population, granted. And granted some Scottish fans may wish to watch Match of the Day. But that does not mean that they are happy for their own clubs in Scotland to be short-changed and exploited in the process. We might be a smaller nation, but we are in no way less passionate about our football and our clubs.

The BBC need to understand that Scottish license fee contributions should be used for investment in Scottish football just as it is in the English Premier League. It is not just the right to show highlights on a Sunday, it should be used as an investment tool to grow our league.

For that to happen, the next package needs to reflect this. It needs to be significantly higher. Topping summed up the situation perfectly, stating that: ‘There is one more season left on our current deal with the BBC and we’re determined that any new deal far better reflects the importance of the game in Scotland and the hundreds of millions the Corporation receives from Scottish licence fee payers every year.’

If it isn’t, the SPFL should not be held to ransom by the BBC. The current deal runs out next year, and we should not bow to the establishment simply as a matter of course. That has gone on for too long.

The media landscape is shifting, and as Sky Sports and BT Sport grow, and continue to invest more in Scottish football than the BBC does, the BBC should not be allowed to continue to reap more from Scottish football than they deserve. As our public broadcaster, they should do better.

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