The SPFL went two years without a title sponsor before Ladbrokes agreed a deal this month to pay £2 million per season until 2017 but that won’t be enough to address the game’s financial problems.
One Premiership club has offered one of their longest-serving players, who is out of contract, £500 per week to re-sign, a big reduction from his previous deal. In his early 30s and with a young family, the player rejected the offer, which he has been told won’t be improved.
Wishart knows there will be more such cuts in the pipeline but warns that attacking the wage bill could blow up in clubs’ faces.
“This is a real test for our game because, with budgets being cut year on year, more and more players are questioning whether it is worthwhile playing football on a full-time basis,” he said.
“It’s a tough time for players at the moment and, judging by some of the offers being made, there are certain clubs which must be struggling to remain full-time.
“Footballers are criticised for lacking ambition when they leave a Premiership team to sign for someone in League One or even League Two down south but, if you can double or even treble your wages, then I think most people would make the same decision.
“That’s why players, if they can find alternative employment, are increasingly keen to go part-time because that would then guarantee them a decent wage and allow them to pay their mortgage and other bills. If enough of them arrive at that decision, then it could be that players, rather than directors, are the ones who will ultimately decide whether or not a club remains full time.”
As recently as 2002, Kilmarnock were paying 34-year-old ex-French international playmaker Christophe Cocard around £8,000 per week. However, it is believed that current Rugby Park manager Gary Locke has had his football budget for 2015-16 slashed by £500,000 and some of his senior players will do well to collect even 10 per cent of Cocard’s wage.
“We’ve gone from one extreme to the other,” added Wishart.
“A decade or so ago clubs were paying players, especially foreign players, crazy money, money they couldn’t afford.
“I understand that we can’t complain about clubs overspending and going into administration, or worse, and then moan about salaries dipping dramatically, which they have done.
“The public perception is that footballers are still minted but, for the majority, that’s simply not the case. In many games, even in the Premiership, the referee is likely to be the highest-paid performer on the pitch.
“Scottish clubs don’t have any regulations which state that they must pay a minimum wage. The SPFL don’t want that stipulated.
“People talk about players having all the power and I just have to laugh. Footballers actually have less power than most other workers in this country.
“While they are under contract it’s impossible for them to leave for another job – even if they’re offered much more money – without their employer’s permission.
“Also, when their fixed-period contract ends, they can be offered a third of their previous salary to do the same job. That’s why players need to be selfish sometimes.”
Rangers will face Motherwell in front of 50,000 fans in the first leg of the Premiership play-off final at Ibrox tomorrow night.
Yet Rangers have 11 players (including Richard Foster, Lee McCulloch, Steven Smith, Kris Boyd, Bilel Mohsni and Ian Black, who all played in the semi-final against Hibs) who will become free agents by the end of this month.
Motherwell have 14 players whose agreements are due to expire, including Lionel Ainsworth, John Sutton, Scott McDonald, Lee Erwin and Josh Law.
“We now have the situation where clubs hand out ten-month contracts,” said Wishart. “It has become seasonal work, with no holiday pay and new contracts, if they are offered, won’t begin until July. With Motherwell and Rangers, players are being asked to put in tackles and risk picking up injuries in spite of the fact they could be unemployed next week.”
The only way Wishart can see how Scottish football can attract more cash in the short term is to negotiate an improved TV deal with Sky and BT Sport – but he inists the clubs must become more helpful. He added: “I’ve lost count of the times satellite TV producers have complained to me about the lack of help they receive. The TV people will ask to speak to Player X only to be told they’ll be getting Player Y, who might not be relevant for their needs. To get more money from broadcasters, clubs need to give more in terms of access. In fact, that goes for newspapers and radio as well. Clubs should be embracing that publicity.”