ROSS County chairman Roy MacGregor fears that current plans for league reconstruction will cost clubs heavily because it may lead to supporters opting not to buy season tickets.
The 12 Scottish Premier League clubs met at Hampden to continue discussions yesterday, and afterwards confirmed that they will vote on a reconstruction package on 15 April with a view to it being implemented by the start of next season.
The proposal on the table is for three leagues of 12-12-18, which would split into 8-8-8-18 after 22 games. It will take an 11-1 vote to pass the motion, which will also have to be approved by the Scottish Football League, who have yet to set a date for their vote.
But there remains concerns among some of the top-flight clubs that the 12-12-18 set-up will simply store up more problems in future. MacGregor believes, for example, that the idea of splitting the top two leagues into three at the end of the year means fans will be less likely to make the season-book commitment. And since clubs rely on that guaranteed income each summer in order to set out budgets for the forthcoming campaign, the loss of revenue would almost inevitably have a detrimental effect.
“My concern is for the fans,” said the County chairman. “Around 80 per cent of the proposals are good – having the one league body is a must and so is a fairer distribution of income and play-offs.
“We run the risk of short-changing fans with season tickets for a 22-game season and I believe that, in the long-term, if that isn’t sorted, then that will be the end of people buying season tickets.
“The fans are the most important people here, not the clubs. I think it takes something away from the product if you’re selling a season ticket for 22 games.
“We have around 3,000 season ticket holders right now. It’s difficult to say what it could become.”
Ross County have also provided one of the few success stories in Scottish football this season. The newly-promoted club are unbeaten in their last 11 league games, a run which has propelled them into third place and provided them with the chance to bring European football to Dingwall.
“I just worry that we might be taking something away from the product by selling a season ticket for 22 games,” said MacGregor. “Look at this season, where any club from second to 11th could move dramatically. We were at the bottom, tenth or 11th, and we’re now third.
“We’d have been out of it so is that fair? In the last two games against Inverness and Celtic, we’ve had sell-outs so I think it’s too early to make a break.”
MacGregor added: “We need to watch we don’t jeopardise the whole of Scottish football by making rash judgements.
“Things need to be very thought-out and calculated and the more talking done the better. Why do people buy season tickets? It’s because it shows loyalty to their club.
“I’d bet a lot of season ticket holders don’t all go the matches. They might only go to half of the games but it’s their part of belonging to their club.
“The club belongs to them and they belong to the club. The season ticket is particularly for the middle aged, the older fan.
“I’m not here just from a Ross County point of view. I look wider than that. I am thinking about the fan who, for as long as I’ve been involved, has known what he’s getting when he buys his season ticket at the beginning of the season.
“Maybe some fans will accept that. Maybe I’m old-fashioned and it’s time to move on. Maybe it’s time to have more pay-as-you-go rather than the season ticket. But it would be good for fans of all clubs to have that debate.”
SPL clubs will formally vote on reconstruction at a meeting next month but MacGregor wants to canvass opinion from the lower leagues. “It’ll be interesting to see what the SFL clubs think,” he added. “I think every-body has a desire to see one body in football and if you look at the big problems – particularly in the First Division – the clubs were asked to do too much. Most of their debt has come from stadium expenditure. I feel really sorry for the likes of Dunfermline and Falkirk, people who had to spend money [to meet SPL stadium criteria].
“In many ways if there was a relaxation on that – and we went back to standing on the terraces – it would be a good thing as well. I’ve got to watch that my views aren’t just throwing the baby out of the pram so I’ll take this back to my board and talk to them. We’ve already had conversations with the fans but I’ll take it back to them. They need to think about this. I have some concerns. But there are a lot of debates to go on yet so we’ll see how that goes. My concerns are for the fans.”
Dundee United chairman and SPL board member Stephen Thompson believes plans for reconstruction are “moving forward”. Speaking as he left Hampden, Thompson said: “Everything is positive and moving forward. There is a process in place and we will take it from there.”
Asked if he thought reconstruction would be in place for the start of next season, he replied: “That’s the plan.”
St Mirren chairman Stewart Gilmour was more cautious as he left the national stadium. He said: “We had a good discussion. There was good dialogue and difference of opinion but a long way to go. I don’t know what will happen. The SFL clubs are still to meet and until they come back...
“There is a lot of tidying up to be done. The biggest thing is, once the SFL clubs meet, I’m sure they all have their own opinions as well so there is a long way to go. If you make a decision to change, it is best to happen right away but whether we get to that in time, I don’t know.”