FOOTBALL matches featuring Scotland’s national team should be shown on free-to-air television as part of an arrangement known as “simulcasting”, a Scottish Labour MP and campaigner for fans’ rights has said.
Ian Murray, the shadow Scottish secretary and former chair of the not-for-profit Foundation of Hearts, which promoted the idea of fan ownership, is behind the idea, which would see all competitive games shown on the BBC as well as Sky or BT.
Murray said the plan, backed by football supporters’ groups, is needed because many low-income Scots miss out on seeing the games due to Sky Sports holding the rights to qualifiers for the national side’s competitive fixtures, including the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.
Campaigners and Labour MPs have called for the return of international football matches to free-to-air TV when the existing Sky contract expires after the 2018 qualifiers.
But critics have said this proposal, which was considered by the last UK Labour government, would starve Scottish football of the cash from lucrative contracts with Sky that are worth tens of millions of pounds to the sport, including revenue that is made available to grassroots clubs.
Murray, who serves in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, said an “accommodation” could be reached where Scotland’s matches are shown simultaneously on terrestrial TV and Sky.
The Edinburgh South MP suggested that would allow Sky to retain its broadcast rights and protect the income the deal generates for the game in Scotland, while widening access to live matches through BBC coverage.
Murray said: “Young people in particular gain an interest in sport by being exposed to it on television.
“I fully appreciate that terrestrial television can’t compete with the vast sums of money on offer from the likes of BT and Sky but I’m sure some accommodation could be made to ensure everyone can share in Scottish international sporting events.
“Supporters are the lifeblood of any sport and sometimes we forget about them, the customers, when determining the best way forward.”
Murray said that such a compromise proposal would allow the BBC and Sky to share the rights when a decision is made on the broadcasting contract for Scotland’s international football matches by European football’s governing body, Uefa. A similar arrangement is in place for the Scottish and English cup finals.
Meanwhile, former first minister Henry McLeish, who previously carried out a review of Scottish football commissioned by the Scottish Football Association (SFA) demanding radical changes in the national sport, said the sharing of the TV rights for Scotland’s football fixtures would be an “ideal solution”.
McLeish, who was also a professional footballer, said “loyal” football fans in Scotland were often unable to watch live matches involving the national team under the existing arrangements.
He said: “Scottish football has to look to make broadcasting rights pay as much as possible to maximise benefits for the national game.
“But a lot of people don’t have access to Sky and BT, so there could be tens of thousands of loyal Scottish fans across the country who are missing out on games due to low incomes or poverty.
“That’s not right and we need to issue a challenge to the game to widen access.”
The SFA, which agreed the deal with Uefa, declined to comment.