Fixing the Scottish Premiership opening weekend

DUNCAN McKay gives his take on how Scottish football can inspire fans both at home and on the terraces after a low-key opening round of fixtures last weekend.
Celtic lift the SPFL Premiership trophy. Picture: SNSCeltic lift the SPFL Premiership trophy. Picture: SNS
Celtic lift the SPFL Premiership trophy. Picture: SNS

How was it for you? For many, the first day of the season is a sign of rebirth. Everyone is equal before a ball is kicked. For those moments before the whistle blows, your team is perfect. It is a day that requires pageantry and build-up, but last weekend the SPFL Premiership kicked off with all the razzamatazz of a Wee Free church service.

For the Premiership, first impressions are important, especially as much of the attention the league previously got will be swiped by the ‘big three’ storyline emerging in the lower division. It was vital that the Premiership started off with a bang, but what we got instead was a false start.

Opening Day(s)

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Only half of the first round league fixtures took place on Saturday, with two more being played on Sunday. We also saw the farce of some clubs (not naming names) choosing not to start the season at the same time as the rest in order to further enhance their bank balances.

In truth, despite some interesting games, it felt like it almost didn’t happen. Last weekend’s SPFL card was the equivalent of the guy who is very much at the meeting but doesn’t say anything.

The fact remains that no one is looking to do Scottish football any favours. The clubs and the league need to seize the opportunity for themselves. No one else is going to talk up the league for them. Do I think the English Premiership is the best league in the world? Of course not, but you can’t help but be excited or intrigued by all the teaser adverts on billboards and televisions across the land. Quite early on the EPL grasped the fact that you have to blow your own trumpet.

For inspiration on how to do an opening weekend well, we only have to look across the Atlantic (although I’m beginning to question if certain administrators can look beyond the end of their own nose). Major League Baseball sets a marker in this regard.

Each club has an “Opening Day” and the whole concept is branded and backed by the league. There’s absolutely no reason why SPFL clubs can’t do this.

Within a few minutes of contemplating this article I already had a number of ideas that could have made this season’s Premiership kick-off more interesting.

Heritage, open days

Firstly, don’t announce the fixtures for the league on exactly the same day as the league in England. We’ve already copied their atrocious names for the league, but announcing the fixture list on the same day makes the Scottish league look like a copy-cat younger brother to the English Premiership. Why not have the fixtures announced a week before and on a different day for each league? Monday sees League 2 fixtures, Tuesday League 1 etc. This means guaranteed media coverage for each day and slowly builds up to the crescendo that is the Premiership fixture announcement.

Secondly, make the championship flag unveiling an event. Heritage is one of the key assets that Scottish football has going for it. Therefore, my modest proposal is that every single season should be kicked off by the newly promoted Championship champions playing at home on the Friday night and the Premiership champions closing the weekend with a home fixture on the Sunday (if we must have Sunday fixtures). By making ‘totem’ events like these, they become more marketable and unique, which makes them more desirable to fans.

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Thirdly, every club should try to host an ‘open day’ at their stadium in the weeks before the start of the season. Here, new signings can be unveiled, merchandise sold, and squad numbers unveiled. By formalising a lot of these events, you heighten the sense of anticipation for the new season ahead. If clubs go beyond this and get young fans onto the pitch for training sessions and give away tickets and t-shirts, they have real potential to grow their fanbase.

There are things in Scottish football that we can have little control over: what actually happens on the park, for instance, and whatever the behemoth south of the border decides to do, but there’s plenty we can do it to mitigate it.

Scottish football should stop being so apologetic and start telling its fans (and crucially non and former fans) why they should be getting behind their local clubs.

A few moves off the pitch could see the Opening Weekend of the Premiership as a celebration of our national game. It might even be a bit more fun than a Wee Free church service...

• Duncan McKay has a background in marketing, and is a regular contributor to The Terrace Scottish Football Podcast.