January 2002


We expose the economic lunacy of SPL TV and urge clubs to go back to Sky before its too late. Did they listen? Did they f...



The SPL has announced that it will set up its own TV channel to be operative from the start of next season. At first glance this seems like a great idea. The present satellite offering of Scottish football is restricted to one live match per week and an hour-long highlights programme livened up by the incomprehensible and ungrammatical nonsense of Charlie Nicholas - surely the natural successor to the recently deceased Stanley Unwin as the master of gobbledygook! Charlie recently described a bout of fisticuffs on the pitch as two players "having an excursion."

But hold on a minute. What would a dedicated SPL channel look like, and how much would it cost? SPL chairmen think that if they take about a quarter of Sky's current Scottish viewers then that will compensate for the amount they currently receive from the broadcaster. That's around 270,000 subscriptions needed BEFORE they factor in the additional costs of production and massive extra programming.

Now obviously they are not going to get that amount of people simply adding the new channel to their existing package. Something has to give and the SPL are assuming that Scots fans will simply dump the rest of Sky's sports content in favour of the native product.

While conceding that the vast majority of Scottish viewers primary sporting interest is watching Scottish football, it is also right to assume that a significant minority will not give up Sky's additional menu of English Premiership, Bundesliga, La Liga, cricket, golf (including the Ryder Cup), boxing, tennis etc. Nor does the SPL channel automatically guarantee that it will show lower division football or the Scottish Cup.

Let's assume also that there are some misguided souls out there who aren't interested in football and take out a satellite subscription for the movies, documentaries, who knows, maybe even the shopping channels! Add them to the sports refuseniks and you can see that the SPL will have a battle on their hands to get the requisite number of viewers.

And all this for a channel which will not show any more live matches than under the current deal. FilmFour and Artsworld offer an eclectic range of programmes for around £6 per month. The SPL are offering the same old stuff for around the same figure, or more. And it gets worse. Even though a dedicated SPL channel will be a pay-per-view channel in all but name, the high heid yins want to charge even more for 'big matches' (i.e. Old Firm games).

This doesn't even begin to add up. Pay more money and get the same, or less as now? Welcome to the strange world of the SPL. And who will make the programmes? Only one company - Wark Clements - has been mooted so far. What level of free speech will be permitted? Can anyone seriously imagine a boring 0-0 draw being described in anything but lavish terms? Look for the slightest hint of criticism of the Murdoch press from Sky. If you find any then I stand corrected. But until then I maintain that an SPL channel will brook no criticism of SPL matches.

At least at present SOME freedom of speech is permitted. Even the linguistically-challenged Nicholas can get hot under the collar at times. Witness his demand for a root and branch clear-out at the SFA after the World Cup debacle. Or his scathing condemnation of Rangers after the cup tie at Berwick when he declared that only four of the starting eleven should be kept at the club.

To compound the folly, what equipment would a viewer need in order to be able to watch the new channel? That's right - a Sky dish, box and viewing card. The same as now. In fact there may even be FEWER viewers as there is no guarantee that ITV Digital will show the SPL channel. At present their subscribers have access to Sky.

And ITV Digital is a warning of what may lie in store. Their dedicated channel ITV Sport is struggling to survive despite the fact that it has the Nationwide League, the Football League Cup and the biggie - the Champions League. But the biggest danger to the SPL channel may be internal. They say they will model their channel on existing ones such as MUTV (a dreadful prospect in itself). But what happens if the Old Firm set up their own channels? What price the SPL then?

The chairmen of the other clubs think they have got a good deal because they have tied the Old Firm to remaining in Scotland for the foreseeable future. A Pyrrhic victory! As this website has long predicted, no one else wants the Old Firm. As Aberdeen's chief executive Keith Wyness so memorably put it the Old Firm are like " two old girls in Sauchiehall Street, lifting their skirts to any League that walks past."

And for what? A trip to Tranmere in the Worthington Cup? Once again the big two have conned the others. They said they wanted to leave when they had nowhere to go to. Then said they'd stay provided the rest agreed to give them the lion's share of the TV money. And after gobbling up all the cash, they'll continue to complain about lack of competition!

Of course it could all be a ploy in an attempt to force Sky to up the ante. If so it's unlikely to succeed as the matches will end up being shown on the Sky platform anyway but with Sky saving on production. Happily, John Boyle assures us this is not the case. As the Motherwell chairman is well-versed in delivering an overpaid, under-performing team watched by an ever-diminishing audience, perhaps it's only right that he is the standard-bearer for SPL TV.


SPL - Satellite Punters Lose

It looks as though the fears expressed here about the SPL's pay-per-view/stand alone TV channel are about to be confirmed.

Far from being the well-researched, ready-to-launch station SPL chiefs have promised, it seems the bosses don't have a clue about what to do. Why else would they send a questionnaire out to clubs giving them just three days to get fans responses to the channel? So much for the prior market research they promised they had undertaken.

How much will it cost? Anything from £8 to £18 per month, if the questionnaire is anything to go by. Far in excess of any single channel currently on offer. The £8 package would buy only what is currently available on Sky and even the £18 option will leave two old firm games and many others subject to an additional pay-per-view charge.

Time, surely, to give up this pipe dream and get back to the negotiating table before our hard-pressed clubs throw away money they don't have.



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