RALPH Topping has accused the BBC of “discriminating” against Scottish football and is demanding a bigger share of the publicly-funded licence fee is allocated to the game north of the border.
The Scottish Professional Football League chairman issued a withering statement in response to comments from the BBC’s director of sport, Barbara Slater, who admitted to “inequality” in the amount of money the state broadcaster pays to Scottish and English football.
The SPFL currently receives just under £1 million a year from the BBC for television highlights, a fee Topping points out is even dwarfed by the £2m salary former England striker Gary Lineker receives as presenter of English Premier League highlights on Match of the Day.
Earlier this year, the BBC agreed a new three-year deal with the EPL in which they will be paid £68m a year for TV highlights from 2016 to 2019.
Topping, the former chief executive of bookmakers William Hill and a prominent “Yes” campaigner during last year’s independence referendum, claims “enough is enough” as he seeks an improved deal for the SPFL.
“The days of the BBC selling Scottish football short are drawing to a close,” said Topping. “There is an overwhelming argument that the public money spent by the BBC on the UK’s national game should be more evenly split.
“There is no doubt that the English Premier League is one of the most powerful leagues in the world, and the BBC is paying £68m per annum over the next three years for its slice of that particular cake, but Scottish football will no longer be satisfied with the crumbs off the table.
“Compared to England, Scots contribute a tenth of the licence fee, yet at less than £1m for TV highlights, our BBC deal is only 1/60th of what the BBC pays to the English Premier League – and that doesn’t include the money they also pay the English Football League for highlights. The BBC is damaging the game in Scotland and these double standards are indefensible for a publicly-funded broadcaster.
“It’s a sad reflection of the BBC’s approach to its investment in Scottish football that Gary Lineker’s salary is double the amount the BBC pays for TV highlights of over 250 SPFL games each year.
“In the current deal, the BBC has almost halved the amount they previously spent on Scottish football. There comes a point where you have to say ‘enough is enough’ and we’ve reached it.
“Fans, clubs, politicians and the Scottish public recognise that, as our national broadcaster, the BBC has a duty to do the right thing.
“The facts could not be clearer – for far too long the BBC has been discriminating against Scottish football and it’s time for the corporation to increase its contribution to the sport in Scotland to properly reflect what our country contributes to the licence fee.
“There is one more season left on our current deal with the BBC and we’re determined that any new deal far better reflects the importance of the game in Scotland and the hundreds of millions the corporation receives from Scottish licence fee payers every year.”
In response to Topping’s criticism, the BBC insisted that SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster had been perfectly satisfied with the TV deal when it was negotiated.
A BBC spokesperson said: “The SPFL welcomed the current rights agreement with the BBC and other broadcasters when it was announced – Neil Doncaster saying it was great news for fans of Scottish football – and it’s always been the case that sports rights are negotiated in line with the prevailing market conditions and not according to population quotas.
“Ultimately the sports rights market is not controlled by the BBC and we are one of a number of organisations who regularly compete for sports rights. When we negotiate for rights our priority is to get value for money for the licence fee payer. Negotiation is two way – the SPFL come to the table with their wishes and we decide on how much we can reasonably spend on the rights package on offer.
“Supporters in Scotland tell us they enjoy watching highlights programmes of both the Scottish Premiership and the English Premier League and we don’t believe that audiences in Scotland are being short-changed.”
BBC director of sport Slater had been speaking at a business conference where she claimed the disparity between how much is paid to English and Scottish football is simply determined by the market value of each product.
“The sports rights market is intensely competitive and there are all sorts of dynamics that are taken into consideration when you put together what you would bid for rights,” said Slater.
“And it is quite correct that, the licence fee, we are trying to get as much as we can in terms of sports rights with the investment. So we are, to a degree, going to be dictated by the market rate.
“And the fact is – and I know the comparison you’re going to draw between highlights of football in Scotland and highlights that we would pay for the Premier League.
“The truth is, the Premier League is a global brand. It is loved by audiences and we think it’s incredibly important that Match of the Day, as the highlights broadcaster of Premier League football, is an incredibly important programme for us to invest in. The message from audiences across the UK is crystal clear: they love Match of the Day and they want Match of the Day to stay on the BBC.
“So, yes, there is inequality, in fairness, but, as a broadcaster, as someone investing the licence fee, I’ve got to invest it in the way the market dictates.”