Can Scottish football profit from the BBC’s loss of it’s ‘Crown Jewels’?

Date: 6th July 2015

THE battle for TV rights in sport has suddenly erupted in the UK. The rise of BT Sport and its ability to compete with Sky Sports for exclusive coverage has seen eye watering amounts of money being poured into European Club Rugby, major golf, Champions League football and the English Premier League are just a few to benefit enormously great TV deals.

The consumer gets fantastic coverage if they can afford it, as Calum McClurkin looks at how Scottish football can profit from the loss of the BBC’s ‘Crown Jewels’.

On the surface there does not seem to be too many losers, but as the BBC looks to cut its cloth, it is left brutally exposed to the pay-per-view big hitters of Sky and BT, as well as ITV who have lost Champions League rights and are keen to add to their slim sport schedule.

The BBC have shelled out on securing the future of Match of the Day and it has left them vulnerable to Sky, who will have The Open Championship, from 2016 and ITV and BT have a major eye on the Six Nations rugby from 2018. In 2022, the Olympics could be next to be poached after American giants, Discovery, landed a deal relating to the Olympics.

Perhaps there is an opportunity in this for the BBC and Scottish football. There is an argument that the BBC will be outgunned by a crowded pay-per-view market for the massive sports events. The BBC could focus on quality rather than quantity and promote something that they may not have fully utilized.

Scottish football and the BBC could work together. Our game is one of the few that gets a poor deal from pay-per-view networks (Sky pays five times more for Rugby League than it does for Scottish football) and could financially benefit from expanding a deal with BBC Scotland, who already have highlights and radio coverage.

With a bit more commitment from BBC Scotland and a bit more funding from across the border, a good partnership could develop. The BBC team know their Scottish football and have a genuine interest in the whole game — not just the Old Firm — a fixture that is paramount to so many television deals with Sky Sports. They genuinely have a passion for SPFL football and have people who care about the welfare of the international and club game.

The BBC do what they can with limited resources and exclusivity. Their TV highlights may well border on cringe worthy at times, but they have mastered the radio coverage of the SPFL with live coverage and other shows. With the BBC losing massive events, then a case can be made for the regions to receive more power when it comes to sport.

The promotion of the Women’s World Cup has been sensational for the game. The easy access to it accompanied with England doing rather well has seen women’s football soar. It remains to be seen if this is just a World Cup bounce. But in England, they show women’s football highlights from an increasingly profitable Women’s Super League south of the border. Maybe one day Scotland could follow.

The public broadcaster may now be heavily outgunned in personnel and technical wizardry, and money but it will always have that massive reach across the country. And Scottish football needs its nation’s people to re-engage in the club game. The SPFL must realise by comparison that Scottish football is one of the few pay-per-view products that is earning a poor deal.

We are losers in all of this. A poor TV deal in a crowded market. Scheduling matches at silly times for fans to travel, coinciding fixtures with bigger games in bigger leagues. The financial aspect of a
pay-per-view will undoubtedly approve once those four cherished guaranteed old firm fixtures return. Let’s be honest, it is the only four matches that Sky really care about. BT have the play-offs. Why not let the Beeb have the rest?

Affordability is another important area. With Sky and BT spending absurd amounts of money then subscription costs will rise and it will be very difficult to sustain every sports package. Fans moan about how expensive it is to go out and watch Scottish football games. Following the current subscription increase in cost and TV viewing will be the same price. It is a dangerous road ahead in terms of viewership. Crowds at an all-time low, TV viewing figures for the Scottish game are dwindling, too.

It will take some out-of-the-box thinking to sort this one out. The SPFL’s solution to problems has largely been to follow England. The pay-per-view bubble may burst one day and if Scotland can avoid that carnage then moving to the BBC would be an inspired decision. It is time to break the mould and maybe time to put our faith in the beleaguered Beeb and go in a different direction. We have little left to lose.

The views expressed in this article are views expressed by Calum and not those of the SFSA.

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