Dear Sky Sports, does relegation no longer matter?

Celtic's trip to Partick Thistle will be screened live by Sky Sports. Picture: SNS
Celtic's trip to Partick Thistle will be screened live by Sky Sports. Picture: SNS
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Stephen Mcilkenny wonders why Celtic are appearing on TV four times over their last five games, while the entire bottom six only features twice.

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Like many Scottish football fans yesterday morning I was waiting patiently for the post-split fixture list to be announced. While Celtic have been crowned Champions following a spectacular season, I was still excited to plan ahead and watch the crucial fixtures that could decide who is playing in the top flight league next season and who would make that final push to the European football.

My excitement left as soon as I saw the televised fixture list. Looking back, as a Scottish football fan, I should have known better.

Of the seven games televised on both Sky and BT Sports, only two of the matches involved teams in the bottom six. In fact, two out of the first three games to be shown from the split involved teams in the bottom half before the focus from TV once again shifted to the top half of the table for the remainder of the campaign.

Ross County v Inverness at 7.45pm on Friday 28 April and Inverness v Hamilton Accies at 12.15pm on 6 May were the only games that were deemed worthy to be shown.

It’s simply ridiculous, and frankly sums up how our league is viewed by broadcasters. While I am aware that BT have been improving their coverage (the less said about Sky the better) the fact that the relegation battle is no longer at the forefront of TV programming two weeks before the end of the season feels like nothing more than a slap in the face.

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Just to put it clearly, the battle for relegation is far from over. It seems ludicrous that a team could be fighting for survival near the end of the season and football fans across Scotland and the world are not able to watch it. For all we know Inverness v Motherwell in the last game of the season could be a crucial match to stay in the league. It could define either club for the next decade, yet Sky turn a blind eye.

The fact that such meaningful games have been left off the TV calendar seems ridiculous.

It is just typical of Scottish football. We talk our game down so much, continually sniping at the quality of the league and the lack of competition, but then when a crucial, potentially season-defining games roll in what do we do, show a meaningless game instead.

Perhaps I would not be so quick to judge Sky for their scheduling if they did not prioritise relegation elsewhere. Why, on the last day of the English Premier League season if the league is not decided do they have ‘Survival Sunday’ but when it comes to the Scottish Premiership we’re left out in the cold.

This is the top league in our country, the division that every player in the Scottish pyramid should aspire to reach, yet TV companies act like they think our league doesn’t matter.

I understand that there is an argument to make for not having these crucial bottom six games on TV. I truly do. Many teams suffer a lower attendance if the game is televised and kick-off times are altered, but ask yourself this: if your football team was playing live on TV at home in a match they needed to win to survive, would you really miss it? I know what my answer would be.

I also appreciate that there is the obvious criteria that TV companies must prioritise in viewing figures. I am not deluded enough to think that more people will watch Ross County v Hamilton than will watch Partick Thistle v Celtic. However, in terms of the excitement is there as much at stake? Don’t we owe it to all football fans and indeed the future of our game to show the drama of relegation and, if looking at the top 6, the push for Europe?

Celtic have been worthy champions. Their football has been fantastic. But why have Sky opted for a game between Partick Thistle v Celtic when a game between 2nd and 3rd is being snubbed the night before? Is it purely a result of the unbeaten run? While I understand that it is a remarkable achievement if it can continue, surely Scotland’s places in Europe is more important. I understand that many fans will want to watch Partick v Celtic for a whole host of reasons, but of all the meaningful games in the top half of the split, 6th v 1st is not truly worthy of TV coverage. The post-split televised fixtures simply lack common season.

It’s time that TV companies stopped treating Scottish football like a second rate product and giving the neutrals what they want to see. While the league is over, the battle for survival is very much on. It seems someone forgot to tell Sky and BT Sport that.

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