The Scottish Premiership started this season without a sponsor, which is just one of the frustrating ways in which the game is run. What can be done?
The Scottish Premiership is back, but unless you’ve really been paying attention you might not notice it.
That’s because the league has no title sponsorship, limited foreign TV rights, no separation from the Scottish Professional Football League on social media and more generally a sense that there’s no real direction from anyone at the top of the game.
“There seems to be a unified consensus that they’re not good at doing anything particularly well,” said Fin Marks on the Totally Scottish Football Show this week.
“I know this has been talked about ad nauseam, but the fallout from everything that went on during lockdown and the league being ended, I don’t think there was one point where the SPFL looked like they were in control of the situation.
“It’s not just the fans: Aberdeen chairman Dave Cormack absolutely slated the SPFL this summer for having no vision and no brand strategy, and that’s someone who is very much in the business world that the SPFL should be operating in. When you’ve got someone at that level calling it out as being dreadful, I think there’s a very real problem.
“The sad thing is it’s nothing new. This is something that has plagued Scottish football for a long time. A few years ago, around 2014, we had Barry Hearn – the man who helped revolutionise snooker, boxing, darts and a number of other sports – speaking at the SFA when the league also had no sponsor. At that time he said Scottish football chiefs were lazy, full of self-pity and had a defeatist attitude. And that if they worked for him they would be sacked.
“He’s well-known for being very sensationalist, but I don’t think an awful lot has changed.”
So why does the league not have a sponsor?
“It’s a pretty good question, and I’ve got no idea why. I find it baffling. Neil Doncaster is on close to £400,000, and I’m not entirely sure what he does. One of the main things he should be doing is finding commercial opportunities for the league.
“At the weekend he admitted that we’re not in an environment that’s commercially attractive to people, and he blamed the situation on the COVID-19 fallout. But I don’t really buy that: it was well-known for months and months that the sponsorship deal was coming to an end, and I find it odd that they hadn’t started negotiations well in advance.
“He mentioned that there had been a deal in principle in place on March 11, which is just before the UK went into lockdown, then after lockdown the company backed out. Apparently the SPFL are actively looking for sponsors.
“I don’t really know what happens now. It would be unusual for a sponsor to come in halfway through a season. I would be surprised if there was a league sponsor at all this season.”
The broadcast rights issue is a particular frustration, as Fin explained:
“Within the SPFL, you’ve got the captain of the Canadian national team [Rangers midfielder Scott Arfield] playing in our league, and he’s one of a number of international players in whom there would be significant interest. Two of the largest ex-pat Scottish communities are in Canada and the USA, and the SPFL has absolutely no broadcast partner in either one of those countries for the coming season.
“It’s not just Scottish ex-pats or fans of Scottish football who have no way of legally seeing Scottish football this season, it just makes our league less and less relevant to casual viewers and neutral spectators.”
So what is to be done? What can be improved in how the SPFL approach things?
“It’s about finding your unique selling point, and there are plenty of those in Scottish football that we don’t take advantage of. The split is something that is interesting, intriguing, beguiling, bewildering to some football fans, but that’s something to sell. The history of our game. The fans are second-to-none: per capita we have pretty much consistently the most well-attended league in Europe. Aside from Rangers and Celtic, pretty much every position in the league is unpredictable.
“I think one thing that needs to happen – and I don’t know how to make this happen overnight – but a change in psyche and mentality. When you look across the border to the English Premier League, they’re very good at believing their own hype and believing they’re the best league in the world. The traditional Scottish mentality is to be a bit dour, a bit self-deprecating and put ourselves down. If you can’t build yourself up, how are you going to get others to believe your product is really good?”
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