Wednesday, February 1, 2023

New Season, Same Old Story For The SPFL

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Kenny Stewart
Chief Football writer for The 4th Official. Always honest and won't shy away from the truth.

The Scottish football season started with a bang; Celtic knocked out of the Champions League qualifiers at the first attempt against Danish side Midtjylland, beaten in extra time in what can only be described as a catastrophic exit.

They then started their Premiership campaign away to newly promoted Hearts and were promptly dumped on their backsides again. Losing two – one to Robbie Neilson’s side.

They’ve picked up since then with four wins on the spin. Europa League qualifier opponents Jablonec, another newly promoted side in Dundee and then defeating Hearts in the Premier Sports Cup by three goals to two mean four wins in a row and confidence rising for both players and fans alike.

As I write (Wednesday), they face AZ Alkmaar tonight in what will be a tough test for sure. Alkmaar finished third in Eredivisie (Dutch top tier) last season, and although they’ve sold a few of their best players, they seem to have a production line of ready made talent that can go straight into their first team as replacements.

Rangers started with a decent 3-0 win at home to Livingston. A comfortable win that was proceeded by a disappointing result in Sweden against Malmo in the Champions League qualifiers.

That was the start of a very poor week for Rangers. They then lost away to Dundee Utd. For me, they didn’t deserve to lose the game but certainly didn’t do enough to win it either. Malmo at home really was a massive disappointment. One nil up at halftime with the Swedes going down to ten men on the stroke of halftime meant there wasn’t a fan in Ibrox that didn’t believe Rangers wouldn’t get through to the play off round.

What transpired was an abject second half performance; two goals in four minutes from the Swedish team saw them two one up within twelve minutes of the restart. Rangers huffed and puffed, created a few half chances, but not much in terms of real quality and out they went with a bit of a whimper.

An enormous opportunity gone. Wasted actually. Rangers really ought not to have seen themselves beaten at home and away by a team of Malmo’s quality, and I mean no disrespect to the Swedish Champions at all.

Two goals in a minute in the first leg in Sweden saw them lose a tight match, while two goals in four minutes at Ibrox was why the home tie was lost.

Allan McGregor
Malmö FF v Rangers FC, Champions League qualification, football, Malmoe, Sweden Malmo, Sweden. 03rd, August 2021. Goalkeeper Allan McGregor 1 of Rangers FC seen during the warm up before the Champions League qualification match between Malmö FF and Rangers FC at Eleda Stadion in Malmö. Malmö Sweden PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxDENxNOR Copyright: xGonzalesxPhoto/JoexMillerx

Four goals in what was a six minute spell over the tie (effectively) see them drop into the Europa League play-off against Alashkert of Armenia, the first leg being played at Ibrox tomorrow.

The bottom line is simple; you can’t lose four goals in these qualifiers and expect to go through. Simple lapses in concentration and what can only be described as brutal defending at simple set pieces simply won’t do at that level.

Rangers did bounce back against Championship side Dunfermline in the Cup on Friday night, actually playing rather well, to be honest. But it can’t and won’t hide the disappointment felt by all connected to Rangers.

Aberdeen went through in Europe also, beating a team from Iceland I won’t even attempt to spell, and St Johnstone took Galatasaray right to the wire with the Turks quality just shining through over the two legs. St Johnstone were fantastic, and hopefully, they’ll get through to the group stages of the new Conference League along with Aberdeen.

It would be great to see four Scottish teams in Europe right through to Christmas, and all four have a decent chance of getting there, so let’s see what happens over the next week.

Hibs were knocked out last week; that was disappointing too. By all accounts, they should have won their home leg but only managed a one each draw. In the away leg, they were well in the game until a sending off with twenty minutes to go when the score was again one all, and then they succumbed to Croatian side Rijeka.

European competition is a massive money earner for Scottish clubs; it would be good for all four left in UEFA competitions to progress as that money is key to how clubs move forward.

The effects of not reaching the Champions League for both Rangers and Celtic are huge. Celtic have shown that year on year. If they fail, which has become a regular occurrence, then they sell players. Rangers have already hinted that the same is on the cards at Ibrox.

It is what it is, I’m afraid. The costs of running these clubs are massive, and it’s the business model they have to use. Celtic’s overhead was over £80m last season while this season, Rangers’ costs will be approximately sixty million quid.

With the lack of money coming into the Scottish game, these European games are a means to an end. Years and years of financial mismanagement from the SPFL sees our league with what can only be described as having pathetic TV deals, embarrassing sponsorship contracts and clubs having to make do with the pittance they receive.

It isn’t good enough; in fact, it’s genuinely embarrassing. All you need to do is look to Scandinavia or Israel, or just about anywhere on the continent to see the ridiculous mismanagement of our game.

Neil Doncaster has overseen the financial demise of our league. When the Finnish league or the Israeli league can bring more money into their game than Scotland can, then you know the scales are tipped against our clubs.

I know nothing of Celtic’s sponsorship deals or what commercial partners they have, but I do know a bit about Rangers’ situation on these deals. I presume Celtic have done similar to what Rangers have done over the last couple of years and have tied up several sponsors and partners. The other clubs aren’t in such a position to do so though.

Aberdeen, Hibs and Hearts, in particular, have massive potential, but they’re being stifled by the people that run our game. It’s corporate mismanagement and, on the face of it, looks deliberate.

How can our league be tying up a sponsor on a tenth of what the Swedish League receives from Unibet? A deal with ‘cinch’ that gives our clubs ten percent of the clubs in Sweden.

If our sponsors feel that we are worth only ten percent of clubs in Sweden while giving Spurs ten million quid for one season merely for their name to get slapped onto the Spurs sleeve, then, in my opinion, you’d be better not taking the deal at all.

The cinch deal harms our game; it looks dreadful. It embarrasses the entire game. One million, six hundred thousand per year to the entirety of the league? Think about that and understand that Sweden gets sixteen million per year from Unibet, then tell me it isn’t humiliating.

The management and demise of our game are such that since Roger Mitchell came in, I can’t recall a single decision made by anyone connected to running our game that’s been a good one.

Terrible TV deals, either no sponsor or a sponsor that treats the Scottish game with complete disdain, governing bodies that think they can target and bully individual football clubs on a regular basis? Yep, Scottish football has now officially hated itself to death.

Until those running the game in this country are overthrown, our game will go nowhere. There’s a reason Celtic and Rangers have always struggled in Champions League qualifiers. Massive clubs in a small country with full houses every week, that means they can bring in plenty of cash via season tickets and hospitality, but those tv and sponsorship deals are holding us back.

In my opinion, I’d never have given Sky Sports the rights to our game. I’d have gone cap in hand to Netflix or Amazon Prime and asked them to promote our game, take what they need from it, use it to learn and get themselves ready for televising bigger leagues. Yes, Prime has the EPL, but it’s still learning how to televise it properly.

I have no doubt that if our game was promoted properly and sold accordingly, our clubs could easily receive ten million pounds per annum in TV and sponsorship contracts. In fact, I think that’s at the lower end of what the game is actually worth.

I’m waiting for the day our game is run by someone with imagination, who can sell our game and be innovative and actually has ALL clubs best interests at heart.

That simply isn’t the case here. Our game’s been sold short, and a decade of pandering to “influentials” at certain clubs has seen us become a laughing stock.

Scottish football stands at a crossroads; our league is decent, the co-efficient clearly shows our game is progressing, so why can’t our governing body sell it properly?

I can remember reading an article way back at the turn of the millennium; it was an interview with someone from Sky Sports. In that interview, the person from Sky stated that the four Old Firm games made Sky thirty two million pounds.

Think about it, thirty two million for four games of football, yet here we are with a twenty odd million quid a year tv deal from the same company! It’s ludicrous, and those that run our game should be sent packing immediately.

No sponsor last season and a measly one point six million quid a year deal from cinch for the next five years. How sad is that?

Our game doesn’t even manage to receive thirty million a year due to the ineptitude of those that run it. The clubs are doing as well as can be expected, and it’s despite the likes of Doncaster, MacLennan or Maxwell at the SFA.

Here we sit, and if you’re a Rangers or Celtic fan this season or any other season for that matter, you need to subscribe to Sky Sports, Premier Sports and BT Sport to watch your team on any given day. The same will happen to Aberdeen and St Johnstone fans if they progress in the Conference League.

Three different TV stations to fleece you of your hard earned cash. I doubt there’s any other set of fans anywhere in the world that gets shafted like that.

As I said, the game in this country is at a crossroads; we have good teams and well run clubs. What chance do they have when the governing bodies aren’t fit for purpose.

If we can get four clubs into the group stages of European competition, it only highlights more how shockingly bad Doncaster and the SPFL are at selling our game, never mind actually running it for the benefit of all.

All I’m looking for is professionalism, business acumen and an ability to promote and sell our game. To bum yourself up by suggesting a sponsorship deal worth just over a million and a half quid is some kind of resounding success is laughable, particularly when one of your member clubs has a deal that’s worth several times more to them than what they’d receive from the company the SPFL got into bed with.

This is the same company that’s giving Spurs two million quid more for a sleeve advert for one season, than its handing out to the whole of Scottish football to sponsor it lock, stock and barrel for five years.

It’s pathetic and it’s depressing and there’s little wonder certain clubs have had their fill of it and decided to go their own way when it comes to sponsorship and commerciality.

The SPFL isn’t fit for purpose. The sooner clubs all get around the table and decide to dismantle this organisation, disband it and remove the lingering stench of it being run for the benefit of certain individuals, the better.

I won’t hold my breath though, Scottish football has hated itself to death for so long now, and it seems to enjoy that hate way too much. Sad times and our game could really be in fine fettle if we just took a step back and realised it’s 2021, and there’s a modern world out there with pots of gold for those that want it.

The people running the SPFL don’t want that; it’s high time the members of it asked themselves why. We have two of the biggest clubs in Europe in our league. They sell out their own grounds weekly; wherever they go, they take thousands with them and fill stadiums across the country.

Why does our governing body not sell that properly? Why are Rangers and Celtic not on TV every single week? The viewing figures for both are massive, so where is the self promotion, the hard sell?

Our game could be sold for a hundred million quid a year if you sold it to Netflix (per se) and told them they could have every single Rangers and Celtic game. Sell the Old Firm game as one of the fiercest rivalries in sport. Get it shown around the world and let a company like that promote our game across the globe.

But no. Take a poxy offer from Sky, which is similar to the women’s league in England (absolutely no disrespect to the women’s game, we are just talking commercial viability), yep, genuinely, and be treated like the Sunday Matinee or the aperitif for Super Sunday.

Steven Gerrard talking to Sky Sports
Hibernian v Rangers – Scottish Premiership – Easter Road Rangers manager Steven Gerrard speaks to Sky Sports before the Scottish Premiership match at Easter Road, Edinburgh. EDITORIAL USE ONLY PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTxONLY Copyright: xAndrewxMilliganx 55605180

Sky has treated our game with such disrespect I’d have never sold it to them, not when there are other broadcasters out there desperate to get into football.

All we need is humility and ambition. I see absolutely none of either from the SPFL and until that organisation and those that control it are chased out of our game, we’ll continue to see our teams struggle to reach the Champions League or Europa League.

If Doncaster et al cared about our game at all, they’d be getting our commercial partners to invest in our game properly. To have five clubs in Europe with potentially four in the group stages can only give those partners free publicity. It’s high time they were persuaded into the notion that investing more heavily would lead to a better return.

The lack of ambition from our governing bodies is nothing short of a national scandal, but here we are with the mainstream media moaning about anything and everything without a single word of constructive criticism, just sticking the boot in whenever it suits in order to get a hit on a link.

Our game needs a serious cash injection for our clubs to progress, but Scottish football is stuck with pathetic leaders who provide even more pathetic money. Deals that our clubs would’ve been happy to accept back in the nineties, but it’s 2021, and here we are humiliating ourselves. I find it all a bit sad, but I’m not surprised at all.

Editorial Note: Did you know this article was published first on our exclusive Patreon page? If you love Rangers while sick and tired of the same old biased MSM coverage, this is for you. The 4th Official needs your support. Due to the unprecedented situation as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic, the digital media space has been completely devastated. There has been a massive shortfall in revenue (even while viewership is up) as we scramble how to make sure that we go on with our daily job. We are proud to put up exclusive stuff on Scottish football as well as an early release of our podcast interviews with relevant personalities of the game (recent guests have been David Martindale, Matt Polster, Greg Docherty, Daniel Stendel & a lot more) on our Patreon account and hope you would support us in these tough times. We have supporters from atleast 9 countries, and you can be too by chipping in just £2.99/month (or become an annual supporter). Become a proud Patron of The 4th Official!

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