Alex Salmond urged to step into Rangers newco row

ALEX Salmond was last night urged to use his friendship with Rupert Murdoch to secure the multi-million pound BSkyB television deal that funds Scottish football.

ALEX Salmond was last night urged to use his friendship with Rupert Murdoch to secure the multi-million pound BSkyB television deal that funds Scottish football.

The First Minister was told he should call in favours from Murdoch to safeguard Scottish clubs that rely on the cash provided by the broadcasting company, which is part-owned by the Australian mogul.

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The day after Rangers were dumped into the bottom division of the Scottish professional game, opposition politicians said Salmond must take immediate action to ensure that BSkyB renewed its contract to cover Scottish Premier League games beyond next season.

The Scottish Football League’s decision to force Rangers to play in the Third Division has raised fears that Scottish football will lose its £16 million sponsorship and broadcasting deal involving Sky and a second company ESPN. One chairman of an SPL club, St Mirren’s Stewart Gilmour, said clubs needed urgent assurances that TV money would continue to flow.

“Five clubs in the SPL could be in administration within weeks and we will have to do everything we can to avoid being one of them,” he said.

Salmond indicated in general terms yesterday that he would be prepared to use his government’s “influence” to lobby on Scottish football’s behalf, but he made no commitment on timing. His spokesman said: “Once the football authorities finally decide on their course of action and show a willingness for reconstruction and reform, the Scottish Government stands ready to use [its] influence to secure the best deals from sponsors.”

He added: “The First Minister is amused that Labour MSPs are now demanding that he has meetings with Rupert Murdoch and BSkyB. However the First Minister will always represent the Scottish 

The broadcasters are due to sign a new annual contract this summer, although its existing deal still has a year to run. Doubts have been expressed about whether BSkyB would want to continue televising a Scottish Premier League that was deprived of one half of the Old Firm, or whether it would be willing to pay as much for the privilege.

In the past, Salmond’s willingness to woo the media-
mogul has proved highly contro­versial. Salmond has defended his friendship with Murdoch on the basis that he was acting in the interests of the 6,000 people employed in Scotland by BSkyB, the broadcasting company of which News Corp owns 39 per cent.

The First Minister made that point when he appeared in front of the Leveson inquiry, despite his opponents suggesting that his real reason for ­getting close to Murdoch was to ­secure the Sun newspaper’s support for the SNP and independence.

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Michael McMahon, Labour MSP for Uddingston and Bellshill, said: “If Mr Murdoch is available to the First Minister and the First Minister believes that the deal could be in trouble, why shouldn’t he pick up the phone to his pal? He has picked up the phone on behalf of other people.”

Jackson Carlaw, Conservative deputy leader, said: “Alex Salmond likes tapping up his best buddy Rupert Murdoch on behalf of Scottish jobs. Well, perhaps he should be doing the same in this instance, to protect the thousands of people who are either directly or indirectly employed thanks to football in Scotland.”

Rangers were relegated to the fourth tier of the Scottish game on Friday despite the Scottish Football League being told that putting the club in Division One could safeguard the broadcasting money.