Dream Topping

Good at chairing meetings
Good at chairing SPFL meetings

Good Afternoon

Blimey! Our Ralph suddenly has a lot to say for himself doesn’t he?!

Fresh from publicly observing that the SPFL rulebook is not a ‘pick and mix’ when Sevco wanted to allow season ticket holders into home play off games for free, the SPFL Chairman has issued a statement about the amount of money that the BBC invests in Scottish Football.

It’s a remarkable statement which almost makes the BBC out to be a Pantomime Villain, and I personally think it is rather ill-judged.

Mr Topping said “The days of the BBC selling Scottish football short are drawing to a close. There is an overwhelming argument that the public money spent by the BBC on the UK’s national game should be more evenly split”.

“There is no doubt that the English Premier League is one of the most powerful leagues in the world, and the BBC is paying £68million per annum over the next three years for its slice of that particular cake, but Scottish football will no longer be satisfied with the crumbs off the table”.

“Compared to England, Scots contribute a tenth of the licence fee, yet at less than £1 million for TV highlights, our BBC deal is only 1/60th of what the BBC pays to the English Premier League – and that doesn’t include the money they also pay to the English Football League for highlights. The BBC is damaging the game in Scotland and these double standards are indefensible for a publicly-funded broadcaster”.

Not happy
Not happy with the deal

The BBC is damaging the game in Scotland. Really? Did Mr Topping actually just say that?! Since when has it been the remit of the state broadcaster to subsidise a sport?

And what about the role of the football authorities in ensuring a good price for their broadcasting rights? Did the football authorities not freely enter into contracts with the BBC? Just like they agreed contracts with Sky and BT Sport?

I suppose it is just possible that the negotiators said to the BBC “we think you are taking us for a ride but we will sign anyway“, but I doubt it!

Mr Topping could also perhaps dwell upon a recurring theme in this blog: that those running the game here don’t exactly promote it in a way that might maximise the value of the ‘product’. Thereby attracting broadcasters’ money…

Remember how the Scottish football authorities put in place a deal to pay BT Sport for the costs of setting up equipment at lower league grounds when showing Sevco games? That arguably says a lot about how hard they have pushed broadcasters to get the maximum amount of revenue from them.

He might also reflect upon the SPFL’s inability to secure a sponsor in recent years… That hasn’t exactly set clubs’ bank accounts alight has it?

The SPFL Chairman continues:

“Fans, clubs, politicians and the Scottish public recognise that, as our national broadcaster, the BBC has a duty to do the right thing”.

“The facts could not be clearer – for far too long the BBC has been discriminating against Scottish football and it’s time for the corporation to increase its contribution to the sport in Scotland to properly reflect what our country contributes to the licence fee”.

The right thing?! Whose job is it to determine that Mr Topping? Yours? Or the people whose responsibility it is to take decisions about (and be accountable for) the use of licence fee money across the UK, having weighed up all manner of viewer demands and priorities?

Discriminating against Scottish Football? Dear me! The use of such terminology suggests prejudice on the part of the BBC and I find that laughable without hard evidence to back it up. NB Hard evidence is not complaining that “they spend more per head of population in England“.

Properly reflect what our country contributes to the licence fee? So, the BBC’s spending on sports rights should be decided on a pretty strict geographical per-head basis? In what branch of economics is that going to work? Televised sport is a popular and valuable commodity. It is expensive for broadcasters to buy, and in the case of some competitions it is eye-wateringly expensive.

The days of the BBC showing a wide range of flagship sporting events year after year are long gone. It has to compete to buy what it can, weighing up the resources available, and (until such time as it is broken up) the demand from the UK public as a whole.

This has resulted in the BBC paying £68m for EPL rights. And considerably less for SPFL rights. I personally think that the EPL is grossly overrated, sterile and not worth that amount of money. But the BBC thinks it is, having considered its entire offering to viewers and listeners ‘in the round’. And it has to stand or fall by that decision (alongside a million others). Mr Topping may be pleased to note the BBC’s impending Charter Renewal process wherein I am sure the money spent on sports right will be carefully considered. Maybe he could write to the new Culture Secretary, Mr Whittingdale?

Another gripping EPL 'Shoot me Sunday' game
Another gripping EPL ‘Shoot-Me Sunday’ game

The SPFL is at liberty to walk away from the BBC at the conclusion of its current deals. Hopefully there will be other broadcasters with more money available to buy its product.

In conclusion, I found today’s statement from the SPFL to be rather bizarre. It reminded me of Sevco fans stamping their feet at the ‘unfairness’ of the contracts into which their ‘club’ has freely entered with Sports Direct.

By all means, the SPFL should negotiate hard with the BBC and other broadcasters. It should also be prepared to walk away from the discussions if it feels it is being undervalued. But it could also devote time, energy and resources to improving the product it has to sell as well.

Have a moan if you wish Mr Topping, but the best chance of getting more money from the broadcasters – including the state broadcaster – is for those running the game to value Scottish Football themselves and make it more attractive.

Demanding a bigger slice of the licence fee pie in the name of overcoming ‘discrimination’ will get you nowhere.

Supply and demand Mr Topping. Supply and demand…



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