Date: 19th August 2022
This week’s first blog provided to you by our resident writer Donald Stewart.
TV Deal or No Deal…
The SFA are negotiating something. A new TV deal apparently.
Now, regular readers of any Scottish football column or news will know that there is a great deal of doubt over the SFA’s ability to do anything that requires finesse, foresight or a fully functioning thought process. Breweries and bakeries aside, they seem unable to organise much.
Or at least that is the impression they appear to like to give.
I would like to think otherwise, given the experiences we have all had with COVID and football over the last 3 to 4 years. I have seen plenty of people upset at the SPFL decision not to allow live streaming of 3pm matches in the UK as the clubs and others want to preserve the live experience. I can understand the SPFL’s point of view. I can also understand the fan who, for whatever reason, is unable to get to the match being upset that they are left with Open All Mikes on BBC Radio Scotland as an alternative. Or Sky coverage with Jeff. Or an app.
But I think that what is needed is not just a package of coverage which brings in the pennies but a distribution system of that cash which reflects the needs of the game beyond the riches of the top clubs. We need to get far beyond the headline figures of the money coming into the game and get to the nitty gritty of the way in which it benefits the people playing, paying and keeping the game alive, across the whole of the country.
Yes, if the top clubs feature on the TV more than others there is an argument that they should, as they are being shown, benefit from their wares. It could be argued that if Dundee United and Hearts are playing decent, attractive football and that this is attracting media attention they ought to cash in on that.
But it is rare that big viewing figures of Ross County v St. Mirren match the number watching Anyone Else v Rangers/Celtic. And if we keep giving the top two the money, the disparity in our game will not be breached but expanded. The big two will get richer and the rest will be wishing they could sell their best assets, player, ground, naming rights or even the club, to keep up.
There is a greater good.
Because if we do not try to bring the gap down between the top two and the rest in some practical manner, address the real need for proper grassroots football available within reasonable reach of the most deprived communities, then all we are doing is making the case for elite sport being supported by the subscribers of a TV channel and not for the good of the game.
I would like to see that any TV money gets ring fenced for the good of the game. A commitment to work towards any young player being no more than a reasonable number of miles away from a qualified SFA coach and club that could meet their needs. More investment in the women’s game including the building of an infrastructure that does not necessarily depend upon being attached to a men’s club. A commitment to facilities that would see us build regional centres that matched what exists at Toryglen. A reduction in paperwork for clubs to fill in and an increase in grassroot support for developing pathways in football for as many young people as possible. Such a move should be designed for young people to experience game time to promote the idea of it being not just a positive activity for your health but a gateway to supporting a club. This should be organised through getting to see the local team – Junior, Senior or lower league – as part of an SFA strategy to give the game more than a good name. It is time to blast the structure of a bowling club with votes into the 21st century and make participation, a gateway to building the attendances on the terraces. It ought to be about getting the local football replica shirt rather than the Real Madrid/ Barcelona/ Auld Firm 3rd choice money maker.
Some of this is already being done – but it needs real value and significant investment.
It is, however, good to see such positive noises about it being a transformational deal emanating from some. But we have heard it all before. I have a funny feeling it will end up with kick off times being manipulated to fit broadcast times. It may even lead to more work for two former Ayr United players in Alan McInally and Andy Walker. It may end up with better coverage and more appreciation of the game north of the border. We might see ourselves in the crowd or our teams in magical TV moments for an end of year compilation. There is far more at stake than what we see in comparison to the new Game of Thrones prequal. But that depends upon whether we want it to. Other ideas are, of course, available from a wide variety of people, called supporters. All they need to do, is ask. They don’t even need to ask properly…
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