SCOTTISH Premier League chief executive Neil Doncaster believes the signing of a new £80 million television deal with Sky Sports and ESPN has significantly enhanced the competition’s value for potential new title sponsors.
At a hastily convened media conference at Hampden yesterday evening, Doncaster savoured the announcement of the renewed contract with Sky and ESPN which will commence from the start of next season and run to the end of the 2016-17 campaign.
Although both parties declined to reveal the financial details of the new five-year deal, it is understood to be worth £16 million a season to the SPL. The existing agreement, which was due to expire in 2013, was valued at £13 million a season.
While still some way short of the £25 million a season contract negotiated with Setanta shortly before the Irish satellite broadcaster’s collapse in 2009, the increase in television revenue is a significant boost for the SPL.
It comes just over a week since Clydesdale Bank revealed they would not be extending their title sponsorship of the league, worth more than £2 million a season, when it expires in 2013.
Doncaster is confident the longer term security and continued high profile afforded to the SPL by the new live TV rights deal will help attract several new suitors to replace Clydesdale Bank.
“The timing of this announcement could undoubtedly not be better from my point of view,” said Doncaster.
“Because to go out to the market place to try to find a title sponsor when you haven’t got a robust, credible live broadcast product, frankly that’s a difficult task.
“But to go to the market place now with the certainty of this five year deal, with the exposure that any sponsor gets through that live deal, is a big part of why they choose to sponsor a league. So it’s fundamental.
“I certainly do expect there will be a lot of interest. The SPL remains Scotland’s foremost sporting competition and in terms of the coverage it’s had over the past few years, the coverage it’s going to have over the next five years with Sky and ESPN and the drama and excitement for which it’s renowned, not just in the UK but overseas, that’s set to continue.
“That’s what any sponsor who ties themselves to the SPL is buying into.
“There has already been interest from potential new sponsors. We will conduct a thorough investigation in the market place, we’ll be open-minded about who we talk to, who shows interest, and then my job is to create options we can bring back to the table and the clubs can vote on.”
The terms of the new TV deal remain the same, with Sky and ESPN both showing 30 live SPL fixtures a season. “As previously, the contract stipulates that Sky, the senior partner in the agreement, will have four Old Firm fixtures each season. It effectively rules out any prospect of the current 12-team SPL being re-organised to any set-up which reduced the number of league games between Celtic and Rangers to just two a season.
“Sky and ESPN did not ask for any assurance regarding the size of the league,” insisted Doncaster.
“That’s not the way they operate. They work in a regulatory manner, so you tell them what it is you would like them to price, then they make an offer.
“That’s what we did. In our situation, we had the status quo of 12 teams. We have 60 games which we make available to sell and Sky and ESPN made a bid for those games. There are no assurances, in terms of Friday night fixtures or anything else like that.
“Old Firm involvement had to be guaranteed, but that’s been the case for a number of years. It’s the case with all of the major sponsorships we enter into.
“One of the conditions is that Celtic and Rangers remain part of the league. It is also a condition that they play each other four times a season. That’s been with us for the entirety of the deal with Sky and before that with Setanta.
“Reconstruction remains a subject under discussion with the SFA and the clubs. I don’t think today’s announcement has a particular bearing on reconstruction. What it does mean is that clubs can plan with certainty for another five years.
“The league can’t meaningfully expand anyway. As we have previously pointed out, if you expand to a 16-team league, playing each other once at home and once away, that costs Scottish football around £20 million. So it’s not viable to expand the league to that size.
“Much as we would all like to see a set-up of teams playing each other once at home and once away each season, that’s the ideal scenario, it’s not affordable. We have made that clear from day one.
“There is no room to manoeuvre in terms of expanding. Fourteen might potentially work in terms of having a split league and retaining four Old Firm games.
“Maybe that would be feasible. But it has never been feasible to have 16, 18 or 20 because you automatically mean going to one home game and one away. We think that will take £20 million out of Scottish football. That is a massive amount of money per season, in terms of lost gate and TV revenue. The lost gate revenue is not to be underestimated. So going to 16, 18 or 20 is impossible, financially.”