Neil Doncaster opens up on Rangers cinch dispute, new SPFL title sponsor and expanded TV deal

SPFL chief exec optimistic that new sponsor will be in place next season

Neil Doncaster has expressed confidence that the SPFL will have a new title sponsor in place by the start of next season after admitting lessons had been learned from the Rangers dispute involving cinch.

Doncaster, the chief executive of the SPFL, revealed that talks are advancing with a potential new league partner to replace cinch, who are stepping aside at the end of the season. The car firm signed an original five-year contract with the SPFL in 2021 but have excercised a clause that allowed them to exit two years early.

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The deal was shrouded in controversary when Rangers refused to display cinch branding, arguing that their existing contract with Park Motor Group procluded them from doing so. The matter went to the court of session where Rangers won an apology from the SPFL, the promise of an inquiry and financial compensation.

Neil Doncaster, chief executive of the SPFL, has revealed talks are taking place with a potential new title sponsor.  (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)Neil Doncaster, chief executive of the SPFL, has revealed talks are taking place with a potential new title sponsor.  (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)
Neil Doncaster, chief executive of the SPFL, has revealed talks are taking place with a potential new title sponsor. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

Doncaster appeared on BBC Scotland radio show Sportsound on Saturday afternoon and expressed optimism that the Scottish leagues will have a new, and potentially more financially-lucrative branding partner for the 2024-25 season and beyond.

"It's a challenging sponsorship environment," he said. "If you talk to any of our 42 member clubs, they'll tell you exactly the same. cinch are coming out of the contract this summer and I'm optimistic we'll have a replacement sponsor for the start of the new season."

Quizzed on the costly dispute with Rangers over the cinch deal, Doncaster insisted that financial impact was far less than had been reported - "some of the figures you've seen in the media are just way over the top and entirely wide of the mark."

He added: "I want to look forward and not back. But certainly it's important that we always look back and see where we could have done things better. We've undertaken a governance review which has been carried out independently and one of areas that has looked at is what can we do in terms of the rules to try and prevent situations like this happening again. South of the border they have different rules where the league is guaranteed exclusivity in certain sectors or clubs have to give their contracts to the league so that the league understands what it's dealing with. We don't have those rules in place at the moment in Scotland and we just need to look at whether there are any similar rules we can put in place that might make things better moving forward."

Doncaster also suggested that the seemingly fractious relationship between the SPFL hierarchy and Rangers is on the mend. "I'm delighted with the way we've been able to work with all of our members clubs - including Rangers - in relation to a number of issues since drawing a line under that dispute. It's been very helpful having James Bisgrove [Rangers CEO] on the board. I think he and [Rangers chairman] John Bennett are doing what they can to strengthen relationships across the whole of the game, and I think that's good for all of us. At a time when you're out in the market with sponsorship, to have everyone on the same page is fundamentally important."

Doncaster was also asked to provide an update on next season’s TV deal which will see an increase in the number of matches Sky Sports are permitted to broadcast from 48 to 60, with another 20 matches up for tender to another broadcaster.

"We did a deal [with Sky] back in 2022 and looking back that was a great deal in terms of the way the European rights market has not quite fallen off a cliff but it's certainly gone backwards in the intevening period,” he said. “If you look at the nominal values of the big five leagues across Europe they've gone down about 3 per cent overall. But nwhen you take into account inflation they are actually down 18 per cent in real terms, that’s a huge reduction. In that context, increasing the amount of money we're able to get from Sky, exteding the deal, getting more games on TV, going up from 48 to a maximum of 60 with Sky, giving clubs the ability to have up to five pay-per-view games each per season, but also crucially, having the ability to take a further 20 games to market. We’re currently in that process at the moment, we've sent out an inviitation to tender to various broadcasters, and we're working through the responses at the moment.”

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Asked who the contenders are for the broadcast rights to the additional 20 matches, Doncaster answered: “We’d love Apple and Google to be bidding aggressively for our rights, but we’re not quite in that space. Amazon are going to be out of the English Premier League market. Other potential bidders, you’ve got DAZN, who are by volume one of the biggest sports broadcasters in Europe. You’ve got Premier Sports, TNT/Discovery. There are certainly people out there who may be short of football content in Scotland and will take an interest.”



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