Congratulations to SPL chief executive, Neil Doncaster, who delivered a remarkable increase in the league’s TV deal with Sky and ESPN; £80m for five years until 2017. The one concession he had to trade, was the possibility that he had to subjugate the link between sporting meritocracy and the commercial imperative.
When news of the deal broke yesterday a Rangers fan was quick to suggest that Sky and ESPN would not have bid on such terms if they had any doubt Rangers would survive in the league, however, later details emerged to prove the exact opposite. The entire deal is dependent on a clause assuring Celtic play Rangers four times each season. If Rangers were eliminated from the league, or even if they failed to earn enough points after an administration penalty to finish in the top six after 33 games, the TV deal becomes invalid.
While this clause was crucial in Doncaster getting his deal it does nothing for the sporting integrity of the competition. It has been five years since Rangers finished outside the top two in the league but if they go into administration, or worse, a fire sale of assets and a point deduction is likely.
The league has now introduced a contractual ceiling on whatever penalty would be applied to a financially deviant club, irrespective of the offense. Doncaster will now also set off to find a sponsor to replace Clydesdale Bank, promising the TV exposure his deal with Sky and ESPN provides. By extension, not only will TV income be dependent on four Celtic-Rangers games per season, so too will league sponsorship income.
Can you imagine the goings-on if Rangers enter next season in administration, with a 10-point deduction and a skeleton squad? Beating Rangers, making it less likely for them to reach the top six, could cost each team in the league millions. Clubs have a clear incentive to ensure Rangers are in no danger of finishing outside the top six.
Neil Doncaster, who is likely to be financially incentivised to deliver TV money, is a member of the SPL board who would decide whether or not to admit a prepack company into the league in the event of an existing club failure. His partiality would be compromised by this deal, so too would other board members from clubs without the liquidity to cope without TV or sponsor income.
While TV broadcasters have a clear financial incentive to lobby for whatever it takes to keep Rangers buoyant, the financial incentives will touch everyone with their snout in the trough, and that includes non-TV media and referees.
This is a dreadful deal as it inserts a clause which compromises the sporting integrity of the competition. Can you imagine giving the team talk to a club, safe from relegation, about to face a Rangers team needing a win on game 33? What about the referee who makes a mistake in Rangers favour, late in the season, under similar circumstances? How would Sky, ESPN and others frame the debate in the event of Rangers going into administration?
I can understand why Sky and ESPN want clause, but the rest of us might as well chuck it.