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SPFL fixtures: Rangers face Hearts in big kick-off

Celtic were last year's SPFL Champions

Celtic were last year's SPFL Champions

  • by ANDREW SMITH
 

Rangers will play Hearts in the stand-out opening day fixture of the new season, reflecting the shift in emphasis created by the reduced circumstances in which traditional powerhouses of the Scottish game find themselves.

The Championship confrontation in which the promoted Ibrox side will host relegated Hearts on 9 August eclipses the five games that will be played in the Premiership that day, though Aberdeen being pitted against Dundee United at Pittodrie has no little intrigue. Broadcasters are likely to consider the second-tier fixture at Ibrox the plum first weekend match, in part because Scottish champions Celtic will not be in action that Saturday. Their meeting with Partick Thistle has been postponed owing to the fact that Celtic Park will be out of commission after its use in the Commonwealth Games.

New manager Ronny Deila will have to wait a week until he takes his bow in front of the home fans as his club raise the championship flag, with Dundee United the visitors to the east end of Glasgow on 16 August for that occasion.

However, in a new development made possible because of the scrapping of the international friendly date in August, there will be a top-flight midweek card during the first week of the new season. It means Celtic will open their title defence against Scottish Cup winners St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park on Wednesday 13 August.

• See the full SPFL fixture list

The inevitability of a fourth consecutive league title for Celtic allied to the presence of Rangers, Hearts and Hibernian in the second tier means that the Sky and BT Sport cameras could turn up at almost as many Championship games as Premiership encounters in the coming season. The television contracts for live screening of 60 Scottish games a season has three years to run but currently the SPFL is in negotiations over a deal to screen the top-flight play-offs. It is anticipated that these talks will also result in a change to the split of games shown live. When Rangers were liquidated in 2012 and started life again in the fourth tier, agreement was reached with the television companies for 15 of their games to be shown, with the top flight accounting for the other 45. It is believed that interest in the Championship will reduce the number of top-flight games screened live. BBC Alba also has rights to screen SPFL games but the exact details of the arrangement have yet to be announced.

The attraction to the television companies of the Championship is obvious. It has been claimed the opener between Rangers and Hearts will produce a record attendance for Scotland’s second tier, though with the Ibrox club’s season ticket sales almost half down on the previous year at the 17,000 mark, matchday sales will require to be huge to fill the Govan ground close to capacity.

Hearts will surely feature in live games for the first two weekends of the season, with the Tynecastle club entertaining Hibs in the second round of fixtures. The most TV-friendly derby in the top flight will be the jousting of the Dundee clubs. They are scheduled to meet at Dens Park on 20 September.

Local rivalries tend to dominate the new year card and for Celtic that means a trip across Glasgow to face Partick Thistle on the first day of 2015. Three days later, Hearts and Hibs are pencilled in to meet in Gorgie.

The spread of interest in Scottish football across two divisions may be the result of mismanagement at Rangers, Hearts and Hibs – the Easter Road side the only one of the three where the shortcomings were not financial – but the effect is expected to be an upturn in overall attendances across the Scottish senior game. Again, that is very much dependent on the Ibrox club’s support not being turned off by the boardroom machinations of their club – and fans of the Easter Road side sticking by their team.

 

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