Block out your calendar for 17 October – Scottish football is back!
In a football league set-up normally riddled with division, all three leagues below the Scottish Premiership have united to return that day in order to bring football back with a bang. The 30 clubs across the Scottish Championship and Leagues 1 and 2 will all return for their first competitive fixtures since the forced break back in March due to the Coronavirus.
But just as plans were being made for the 30-club, three-division Super Saturday, voices within the SPFL executive shouted “hold my beer…” and yesterday made the shock announcement that the first Old Firm fixture of the new season will be held on that same date!
This one fixture will overshadow everything.
In that single action, we learn that nothing has changed in Scottish football. The privilege of the few outweighs the needs of the many.
First of all, I completely understand why the first Celtic versus Rangers game would be held back to a later date to try and coincide with a weekend where supporters might be allowed back into stadiums. However, did it need to be that very same weekend? There is no direction from Government as to when fans will be allowed back in to grounds.
Secondly, I’m aware that the Old Firm match won’t kick-off at 3pm. It will be selected for broadcast and moved to a different timeslot, either earlier on the Saturday or possibly to Sunday. However, the end result is the same. In what should have been a weekend dominated by the return of the three leagues below the Premiership, it will now be overshadowed by the supposed ‘top billing’ fixture that weekend.
Why do that? Surely the smart money would have been for separate weekends? Have one weekend promoted around the Championship, Leagues 1 and 2 returning, and another for the Old Firm. Build up the excitement. Reach out to supporters across those divisions, encourage those who haven’t set foot in their local ground to return after an enforced seven-month break.
Build some excitement around a fixture involving Hearts who (possibly) will be adjusting to life in the Championship. Focus on a big city Dundee v Hearts opening fixture.
There are already so many unknowns in the three leagues outside the Premiership this season that it naturally inbuilds anticipation. There are the teams that have been relegated due to Coronavirus. There’s a significantly shorter fixture calendar than anything we’re used to, 36 fixtures down to 27, so there will be no room for getting off to a slow start. We have clubs ravaged financially by Covid challenges. There are squads being formed much later than ever before in a scattered transfer window. This will be a season unlike no other. Does it not merit some promotion from our own league body?
Instead, the build-up to 17 October will be dominated by the Old Firm. We will have the inevitable atmospheric TV adverts, whilst the newspaper headlines will once again focus on Glasgow’s two big rivals.
I’m not suggesting we don’t promote this headline grabber, but why not have that on a different weekend and have two big weekends to push and promote instead of one? We should push the Old Firm clash as far and wide as we can. It is arguably a fixture like no other. Let’s use it to reach out to new markets. Give it the billing it deserves. However, this doesn’t need to come at the expense of everyone else’s Saturday.
This whole affair underscores one of the clearest deficiencies within our organisation; we’re desperately poor at promoting our own game. We don’t recognise ourselves as a brand and we fail to spot opportunities to market what we have.
Now let me get in first, before the inevitable criticism comes my way – I’m not for a minute suggesting that we use a League 2 fixture to market our game in the same way we would with one involving the biggest teams in our nation.
However, a marketing plan is usually built on multiple levels. Each action supports the other and creates foundations to build further. This creates momentum. The overall aim is to reach as many different groups as you need to using different methods. In short, you find out what people at different levels want and you give them it in whatever way works for them. You build your brand.
In the context of Scottish football, we would embrace what we have in our clubs at every level. We market to the strengths of each, and promote different leagues and clubs to different groups for different reasons.
Most important of all, you seek as many different opportunities as possible and find key milestones on which to focus your efforts. We clearly don’t do that. We take the opportunity presented to us to build anticipation around the return of our favourite sport for 30 clubs, and we obliterate it for the sake of one fixture.
There has to be a better way.
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