Mark Warburton: SPFL should extend the top-tier

Rangers manager Mark Warburton at training ahead of Sunday's match with Morton. Picture: SNS

Rangers manager Mark Warburton at training ahead of Sunday's match with Morton. Picture: SNS

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Rangers manager Mark Warburton believes that the Scottish senior game must be restructured in order to improve the quality of the product and its value to broadcasters.

He argues that an extended top tier is essential to abolish the tedium of clubs meeting each other four times each season in the league and, often, again in cup competitions.

Neil Doncaster, the chief executive of the SPFL, has always maintained that an extended Premiership would be commercial suicide and, indeed, when extending a contract with media partners Sky Sports and ESPN in 2011, he revealed that the contract included a clause which guaranteed four Old Firm games per season.

Of course, Rangers’ descent into administration and liquidation the following year put paid to an agreement which should never, for sporting reasons, have been entertained in the first place.

However, even though he accepts that the commercial reasoning behind it remains sound (Celtic v Rangers remains the easiest fixture to sell at home and abroad), Warburton argues that the SPFL should be prepared to take a financial hit for the good of the game.

Even though Rangers, who travel to Greenock to face Morton at lunchtime, lost at home to St Johnstone in midweek, the former Brentford boss points out that other League Cup results prove that a bigger elite division need not mean a less competitive environment.

“I think that’s a solution,” said the former City trader. “In terms of the bigger debate, we must get investment into Scottish football.

“I’m sure that when you look at the quality and variety of a product and what appeals, these are the obvious questions. Should we expand the league? I’m sure it’s an idea that will come up.

“People have been trying to get me to eat my words [about there not being much between the top two divisions] but the fact is Aberdeen lost to Hibs and Morton beat Motherwell so hang on a second. I just think the gulf is far narrower.

“We had 64 per cent possession [against St Johnstone], more shots and more on target but we were three down and gave ourselves a mountain to climb.

“Credit to St Johnstone, but I’m not having it for one second that there’s this massive gulf in quality.”

Rangers met arch-rivals Celtic eight times during 2011 but Warburton is convinced that kind of over-exposure damages the brand, claiming that facing the same opponents too often acts as a disincentive for fans to turn up.

“I think it does,” he said. “I’m not speaking as an expert, just giving my opinion.

“Playing teams that often – apart from the obvious one with the excitement of the Old Firm derby – is overkill sometimes.

“In my humble opinion, I think [a 16-team top flight] would be viable.”

Even (assuming Rangers win promotion this season) the loss of an extra home game against Celtic in 2016/17 is a price worth paying for Warburton.

“I’m looking from a football perspective but some short-term pain for long-term gain could be a very relevant quote here,” he said.

“I’m sure Rangers going away and taking 7-8,000 supporters to a game is an injection of cash which is much needed and clubs might lose that for one game but I’m sure, in the longer term, the health of Scottish football would be better.

“Anyone involved in the process has to look at what’s best for Scottish football, what’s best for the long-term picture.

“If it’s always about short-term fixes you’re never going to make significant progress in solving what is a problem.”

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