SCOTTISH football has proved to be something of a graveyard for broadcasters in recent seasons.
But as they prepare to make their entrance this week, BT Sport are confident they will become a sustainable and successful presence.
Having taken over the ESPN portion of the current Scottish football television contract, which in conjunction with Sky Sports is due to run until the summer of 2017, BT Sport will herald the launch of the new-look SPFL season with live coverage of Friday night’s Premiership opener between Partick Thistle and Dundee United at Firhill.
It will be the first of 40 live games on BT Sport, 30 of them from the top flight and the remaining ten featuring Rangers in League One.
With Setanta having entered administration in 2009 when their investment in the SPL become unsustainable, then ESPN’s involvement withering as a result of their loss of English Premier League rights, it means yet another new channel for Scottish viewers to find live coverage.
“The difference between us and previous broadcasters who have covered Scottish football is that we are a huge business,” said Marc Watson, chief executive of TV at BT Retail, as the new broadcaster held their Scottish media launch at Hampden.
“We have a market capitalisation of £26 billion. We are not easy to push out of the market. We are the biggest fixed telephone line and broadband company in the country. That is something Setanta and the other broadcasters, such as ITV Sport in the past, could not provide.
“We can afford to invest significantly in this. If Scottish football’s broadcasting rights are worth more than they are now when we come to the end of this contract, then we will feel we are doing our job properly.”
Live Friday night football will be a regular staple of BT Sport’s coverage and the company will also embrace the Saturday 5:15pm kick-off time, which has already caused disquiet among some supporters.
“Saturday tea-time is a decent slot for us and for our viewers,” added Watson. “So is Friday night. We will work in conjunction with the SPFL on kick-off times and bear in mind the spectators at the matches. But success for us means people watching SPFL matches on BT Sport.”
For those who subscribed to ESPN’s Scottish football coverage, there will be a familiar voice behind the microphone in the form of lead commentator Derek Rae who has moved to BT Sport.
“The UK is a difficult TV market right now so the chance to be with this project from day one is really exciting,” said Rae. “To see it grow is going to be fascinating. When I commentated on the last Edinburgh derby of last season [for ESPN], I didn’t know what the future held.
“But I’m delighted to be working with the team at BT Sport. Our production and coverage will all be based in Scotland and we want to bring the viewer into the stadium. Our presentation of live matches will come from pitchside and will enable us to tell the stories Scottish football provides more effectively.”
Rae will be joined by former Scotland captain Gary McAllister as the channel’s co-commentator. Out of front line football since Aston Villa dispensed with his services as assistant manager two years ago, the 48-year-old is relishing a new direction in his career.
“I have moved my family up and down the country too often over the years,” said McAllister. “My mind is made up that I am going to stick with this side of the game, rather than looking to get back into coaching and management. My 13-year-old lad has been to four different schools. Management and coaching gives you very little time and I don’t want that any more.
“I think TV punditry is more technical now. I think the fan has a greater knowledge now because of the access to information they have.
“Ex-players are now being more technical in their analysis because they feel people can pick it up.
“You don’t want to put out things that go over the majority of people’s heads, but I definitely think fans can take more on now.
“The talk is different in a dressing room with professional players and professional coaches. You have to get these things over in a way that can be taken on board. I feel very positive about what BT Sport intend to bring to live football on TV and I’m excited to be part of that back in my home country.”