• Fears that smaller SPL teams may go into administration
• Sky and ESPN yet to sign £80m TV deal
The Scottish Premier League is scrambling to salvage its financial future after its clubs agreed to accept that the newly formed Rangers club will be starting the forthcoming season in the Scottish Football League Third Division.
The SPL and SFL chief executives, Neil Doncaster and David Longmuir, had warned of potential financial collapse if Rangers were made to join the Third Division, because the SPL's £80m TV deal and its sponsorships depend on both Celtic and Rangers being in the league.
Longmuir told his clubs last month that if they voted Rangers into the Third Division, the SPL was likely to try to absorb the SFL First Division into a breakaway, and form an SPL2, with Rangers in it. Last Friday the SFL clubs nevertheless voted to put into the Third Division the Rangers club to be formed by Charles Green's Sevco company, which has bought Ibrox and the old Rangers' other assets from the club's administrators.
But the further divisive prospect of an SPL2, for a Scottish game that has been sucked into turmoil since Rangers' collapse five months ago, was dismissed on Monday after a meeting of SPL clubs at Hampden Park. An SPL2 was not on the agenda, and the meeting concluded with the clubs accepting the new Rangers playing in the SFL Third Division.
"It was agreed that the SPL would work with the Scottish FA, SFL and Rangers to facilitate Rangers FC taking their place in SFL Division 3 this season," the SPL said in a statement. Central to the SPL finances is a new TV contract with BSkyB and ESPN, due to begin this season and run for five years until 2017, in which the broadcasters agreed in November to pay £80m over those five seasons, but have still not actually signed. As Celtic and Rangers matches and the Old Firm derbies provide the broadcasters and sponsors with the bulk of their subscription and advertising value, it is written into the contracts that the two clubs will be in the league.
Before Friday's SFL vote, SPL sources said broadcasters had intimated they would walk away, or certainly renegotiate their deals, leading to the warning that £16m a season could be lost. With Rangers' absence until at least 2015-16 now apparently accepted, the SPL must now conclude its commercial arrangements. "We will be working intensively over the coming days and weeks to clarify the position with our commercial partners," Doncaster said after Monday's meeting.
BSkyB, whose deal was to include showing the Old Firm derbies, declined to comment on Monday about what its approach will be. ESPN, which said it is "proud to be a broadcast partner of the SPL and a supporter of Scottish football," said in a statement: "We want to have a continued relationship with Scottish football and, naturally, that would need to make sense for Scottish football, for fans and for our business. We look forward to having fruitful discussions on that basis."
It is expected that the broadcasters will renegotiate the £80m which is in the contracts, given the reduced commercial value of the SPL to them, but neither BSkyB nor ESPN are likely to want to be associated with a major financial collapse in Scottish football. The Clydesdale Bank said it will maintain its £2m sponsorship payment despite Rangers' absence. However next season, 2012-13, is its last of a four-year deal, and the bank announced in November it will not renew after that.
Doncaster's warnings of financial difficulties among clubs dependent on the TV income are being acknowledged. St Mirren's chairman, Stewart Gilmour, has said five of the SPL's smaller clubs "could be left in administration within weeks". Aberdeen said: "The challenges facing every club in Scotland are severe."
SFL clubs, which have no TV deal, have insisted they will hold the SPL to the £2m it is obliged to pay under the original agreement when the then top 10 SFL clubs broke away to form the SPL in 1998.
The 11 SPL clubs which met on Monday agreed to invite Dundee, who finished second in the SFL last season, to take the place of Rangers for the coming season, rather than allow Dunfermline, who finished bottom of the SPL, to stay up. Dunfermline's chairman, John Yorkston, said his club is considering a legal challenge, but the SPL did not believe its decision could be overturned. Read More
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