SPL's £80m TV deal with Sky and ESPN kicks expansion into touch

Ravi budhwar

21 Apr 2011
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Celtic and Rangers will continue to play each other four times per season under the SPL's new £80m TV deal. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The Scottish Premier League has agreed a television deal with Sky Sports and ESPN which will run until the end of the 2016-17 season. They will pay a combined £80m to continue to screen 30 live SPL matches each per season. The figure represents an increase of £3m a year on the existing broadcast agreement due to end in 2014.

Central to the deal is the continuation of four Old Firm matches each season. This removes the possibility of the meaningful expansion of the 12-team SPL for which supporters have campaigned.

The SPL's chief executive, Neil Doncaster, stressed that a bigger division is not financially viable. "There is no room to manoeuvre in terms of expanding. Fourteen teams might potentially work in terms of having a split league and retaining four Old firm games. Maybe. That would be feasible.

"But it has never been feasible to have 16, 18 or 20 because you automatically mean going to one home game and one away. We think that will take £20m out of Scottish football. That is a massive amount of money per season, in terms of lost gate and TV revenue. The lost gate revenue is not to be underestimated. So going to 16, 18 or 20 – financially – is impossible."

The SPL had considered not extending its TV contracts beyond this season, which it was entitled to do due to a break clause in the existing deal which runs to the summer of 2014. Had it done so, the SPL could have established its own, standalone pay-per-view channel.

Doncaster said: "The attraction of five years' stability, on increased terms, with blue-chip broadcast partners at a time when you need a new title sponsor, made it a fairly easy decision.

"Let's look at the context. The Football League is 25% down in terms of reported figures for its live deal. Other rights sellers in the marketplace are suffering similar reductions, whether it be broadcast deals or sponsorship deals. In that context, giants like Sky Sports and ESPN have come to the table and demonstrated a much-improved level of confidence in Scottish football and delivered more money. That's the reality.

"Against the global economic context, where rights values are down, Sky and ESPN were willing to bid more for a product they were already contracted to for another two and a half years."
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