THE demise of Rangers will have no negative impact on the search for a new title sponsor to replace Clydesbank Bank next season, SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster pledged yesterday.
• Neil Doncaster outlines post-Rangers SPL finances
• More to Scottish football than the Old Firm - SPL chief
Rangers’ demotion to the fourth tier of Scottish football – they have still not won away in the league – initially prompted fears of a total meltdown in the Scottish game but Doncaster insisted a number of companies were interested in putting their name to the SPL when the current deal ends.
“The SPL has been proved to be financially robust despite the absence of Rangers,” said Doncaster. “We are clearly in the market place now for looking for a title sponsor for next summer. There is a real opportunity for big brands to be associated with us. We would be able to give whoever comes on board fantastic exposure. We’ve always been renowned as the best supported league per head of population anywhere in Europe. With the loss of Rangers there was a view that might no longer be the case – but it is. That’s an incredible testament to the popularity of the Scottish game.”
Without naming names, Doncaster said the SPL were talking to “a number” of potential backers and not just those based domestically. “We are open minded as to whether they are British or overseas. Let’s see what comes out.”
Whilst the global perception of the Scottish league might be one of impoverished teams playing in front of small crowds, Doncaster insisted the game was holding up well despite the fall from grace of Rangers.
“There is a difference between perception and reality,” he told The Scotsman. “The reality is that we have a Highlands derby for the first time in SPL history – which was a virtual sellout despite being on tv – plus the Dundee derby is back and there is the Edinburgh derby so there are some real talking points. You’ve got a strong population of several millions and a product that is screened not merely in Scotland but also in the rest of the UK and in over 100 countries around the world. There is still real interest in a vibrant SPL which is a lot tighter than possible people expected.”
Retention of the SPL’s broadcast partners was a key element of the Scottish game staying afloat, said Doncaster. “All of our commercial partners and broadcasters stood by us instead of stepping away which gives us great hope for the future. Perhaps they believed the product was more valuable that some commentators would admit.”
Doncaster was speaking after addressing the Leaders in Football conference at Stamford Bridge where he presented a bullish defence of SPL finances despite predictions that Rangers’ implosion would spell the death knell for the domestic game.
Ironically whilst Rangers are languishing in the Third Division, Celtic are making impressive strides in the Champions League but Scottish football, Doncaster said, was not only just about the Old Firm though he admitted individual clubs were facing a drop in income due to reduced gate receipts. “There was a real fear over the summer that the demise of Rangers would lead to a real concern about the financial position across the whole of the game in Scotland,” Doncaster told delegates.
“For many people Scottish football means ‘Old Firm’ because no one else has won the SPL since its inception. What the events of the summer show the game in Scotland is a lot more resilient than that.
“In fact finances at league level will not be wildly different from where they were last year. So the game has developed and has proved to be more resilient. Part of that is we have been able to rely on our strong partnerships with the likes of Sky and ESPN.”
In the summer, one football finance analyst estimated the cost of not playing Rangers four times a season could lead to a £1m drop in revenue for each SPL club. But Doncaster countered: “What has happened has led to a redistribution of wealth throughout the game. Rangers supporters who would have been going to SPL grounds are now going to SFL grounds. All of these are benefiting from a huge influx of money.”
Yet with the advent of Uefa’s strict financial fair playrules, Scottish clubs are under the spotlight like never before with Rangers flagged up – rather like Portsmouth – of exactly how not to run a football club and Hearts under constant scrutiny because of their controversial ownership structure. Again, Doncaster was at pains to paint as rosy a picture as possible. “Mr Romanov in fact has put in an awful lot of wealth into the Scottish game. Yes it’s important that clubs are financed for the long term but in terms of wages to turnover ratio, SPL clubs are run on a very prudent basis of around 60 per cent on average which stacks up pretty well across Europe.”
Yesterday Rangers announced plans to raise up to £20m after the club confirmed it is to float its shares on the Alternative Investment Market of the London Stock Exchange.