Celtic prepared to take financial hit to help break league ‘gridlock’

Peter Lawwell says Celtic will take a hit in terms of prize money under the new proposals. Picture: SNS
Peter Lawwell says Celtic will take a hit in terms of prize money under the new proposals. Picture: SNS
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CELTIC chief executive Peter Lawwell wants unanimous backing for the contentious league reconstruction proposals for Scottish football, insisting they offer the only way out of the “gridlock” in which he says the game currently finds itself.

Lawwell is a member of the SFA’s Professional Game Board which had a key role in negotiating the agreement in principle, announced at Hampden on Tuesday, for a new 12-12-18 three-tier set-up which will see the Scottish Premier League and Scottish Football League merge into a single governing body.

The structure, which involves extended play-offs with the top two divisions splitting into three groups of eight teams halfway through the season, has been criticised by supporters’ groups and also attracted the ire of Rangers, who will find themselves in the 18-team third tier next season if the proposal is voted through later this month.

But, while Lawwell admits the new set-up is imperfect, he ­believes Scottish football simply cannot afford to reject it.

“Every­body needs to get behind it,” he said. “All of the stakeholders in the game – media, clubs, ­governing bodies – need to back it. You should not under­estimate the breakthrough in terms of getting ­unanimity within the SPL on this. That’s difficult to get and, once you’ve got that, you have to use that to get to a solution. To not do that would be a very big lost opportunity because, if you had to go back and start again, God knows where you would end up or how long it would take.

“I don’t think the new set-up is that complicated. It is not perfect, we have huge challenges ahead, but it’s probably the best available.

“Where do you create value in the game? The Sky deal is done, we’re now looking for a main sponsor for the league. Where are the other revenue streams? Well, the main one is gates and, if you have more meaningful games, then you have more people turning up and that means more cash at the gate, more sponsorship interest and more TV interest. It’s just about trying to get more meaningful games and getting more supporters to come out because the games they are watching matter.

“If you are a Hearts or Aberdeen season ticket holder, you go out in July to buy your 
season-ticket and, frankly, history tells you, without being arrogant, that only two teams win the league. Where is your motivation? But, when they go to play a relegation battle, it’s a full house. If they get relegated and try to come up it’s a full house. That’s because they have something to play for. When they come to Hampden they take 20,000 people because there is something to play for. The predictability of the outcome of any competition ultimately kills it and that’s what happens here. Celtic and Rangers have been the ­biggest strength because we have ­generated all the value but, some may also argue, the biggest weaknesses because it’s destroyed competition.”

To gain SFL support for the plan, SPL clubs have agreed to a financial distribution model which will see Celtic among the biggest losers in terms of prize money.

“We are giving up a considerable amount,” said Lawwell. “There is a change to the distribution. Some would deem that fairer, I would probably not call it fairer because those who generate the value should get the most, but it’s a recognition – certainly from Celtic – that to get out of this gridlock we need to, in some way, compromise in the central revenues.

“The difficulty in the past was getting unanimity. It’s different industries. In the past you had Celtic and Rangers as a different business from the other professional clubs, the city clubs if you like. Different agendas, different objectives. To get all of them aligned has been very difficult. That’s why that breakthrough was so important. It is one of the very infrequent times when the greater good of the game has been taken into account.

“Will it transform the game? There’s a big question mark there. Can we transform the game in Scotland with a population of five million and meagre media rights? Again, a big question mark. But this will help, it will get more meaningful games and get things moving along.

“It won’t change the predictability of outcome at the top of the league. You need a more radical solution to change that. Who knows what will happen in the longer term [with cross-­border leagues], because Uefa have opened their minds to that.”