THE announcement that BT Sport will pay £8 million to broadcast a revamped League Cup from next season has once again brought Scottish football’s relationship with TV under the spotlight.
The broadcaster will have exclusive rights to the country’s second most prestigious knock-out competition until 2020, in a package worth around double the £900,000 a year generated by an existing contract with BBC Scotland.
However, the amount TV deals generate for clubs north of the border pales in significance when compared to the English Premier League (EPL), which signed a new deal worth £5.136 billion in March for UK broadcast rights from 2016-19 with Sky and BT Sport.
The two broadcasters also have live rights for the four divisions of the SPFL until the summer of 2020, in a deal worth a reported £15 million per season - to be shared between the 42 member clubs.
BBC Scotland has a separate deal to broadcast highlights of SPFL matches as well as provide live radio commentary, worth around £1 million a year.
The latter package was the subject of fierce criticism from SPFL chairman Raplh Topping in May, in response to comments from the BBC director of sport, Barbara Slater, who admitted to “inequality” in the amount of money the state broadcaster pays to Scottish and English football.
The BT Sport deal to screen League Cup matches from summer 2016 represents a big increase on current termsSPFL spokesman
The BBC agreed a new three-year deal with the EPL in which they will be paid £68m a year for TV highlights from 2016-19.
Topping, former chief executive of bookmakers William Hill, said: “The days of the BBC selling Scottish football short are drawing to a close. There is an overwhelming argument that the public money spent by the BBC on the UK’s national game should be more evenly split.
“There is no doubt that the English Premier League is one of the most powerful leagues in the world, and the BBC is paying £68m per annum over the next three years for its slice of that particular cake, but Scottish football will no longer be satisfied with the crumbs off the table.
“Compared to England, Scots contribute a tenth of the licence fee, yet at less than £1m for TV highlights, our BBC deal is only 1/60th of what the BBC pays to the English Premier League – and that doesn’t include the money they also pay the English Football League for highlights. The BBC is damaging the game in Scotland and these double standards are indefensible for a publicly-funded broadcaster.”
BBC Scotland is thought to pay a higher percentage in Scotland - compared to the overall live Sky/BT rights - than it does for highlights as a percentage of the live rights in England.
A spokesman for BBC Scotland said: “The SPFL welcomed the current rights agreement with the BBC and other broadcasters when it was announced - Neil Doncaster saying it was great news for fans of Scottish football - and it’s always been the case that sports rights are negotiated in line with the prevailing market conditions and not according to population quotas.
“Ultimately the sports rights market is not controlled by the BBC and we are one of a number of organisations who regularly compete for sports rights. When we negotiate for rights our priority is to get value for money for the licence fee payer. Negotiation is two way - the SPFL come to the table with their wishes and we decide on how much we can reasonably spend on the rights package on offer.
“Supporters in Scotland tell us they enjoy watching highlights programmes of both the Scottish Premiership and the English Premier League and we don’t believe that audiences in Scotland are being short-changed.
“We have a long standing relationship with football’s governing bodies in Scotland and we believe our involvement has a positive impact on the appreciation of the game in this country.”
The SPFL said the new League Cup deal was proof Scottish football remained attractive to TV audiences.
“The recently announced BT Sport deal to screen live League Cup matches from summer 2016 onwards represents a big increase on current terms and demonstrates the continuing interest from broadcasters in the Scottish game,” an SPFL spokesman said.
Broadcast rights for the Scottish Cup, the oldest competition in Scottish football, are shared by BBC and Sky until 2017/18.
The rights are sold on behalf of the Scottish Football Association by IMG, a leading broadcast rights firm.