THE Scottish Premier League could kick off on August 4 without a live television deal after chief executive Neil Doncaster was yesterday unable to offer any guarantees that key broadcasters would not walk away with Rangers no longer in the top flight.
The deal agreed with Sky and ESPN last November, worth £80m over five years, was scheduled to kick in at the start of the season but, with Rangers newco having being placed into the third division, that seems to be in doubt, placing several SPL clubs in financial peril.
Doncaster, speaking after the SPL's annual general meeting that decided Dundee would replace Rangers in the top tier, would not be drawn on Sky's position except to say he has further talks planned with all commercial partners, but the previous contract stipulated that Celtic and Rangers must play each other four times a season and it is thought the new deal features a similar clause. The first payment from Sky, in the region of £640,000, was due to be paid in the first week of August but it seems unlikely that that money will arrive.
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"We've got something in the region of 15 or 20 commercial partners that we'll need to talk to and when we're in a position to announce what the reality is we'll do that," said Doncaster. "Certain contracts are not dependent on any particular team being in the division and there are certain contracts which could be.
"We gave estimates as to what could happen, but estimates are estimates. It wasn't a worst case scenario and the facts will come out in the coming days and weeks. I speak to Sky on a regular basis. I've been in London for much of the past few weeks and I expect to be there for much of the next few weeks."
Asked specifically whether a live broadcasting deal was in place for the new season, Doncaster replied: "It is what it is. I've been as clear as I can. I can't be any clearer. I won't be drawn on the specifics of any commercial arrangement, I'm not going to do that."
Doncaster also confirmed there would be no play-offs between teams at the foot of the SPL and the top of the first division next season. "That situation was on the basis that Rangers were in the first division," he added. "It was felt Rangers in the first division would remove the potential for a promotion place, in all likelihood, for other clubs. Once the play-offs are voted in, they would be in [for future seasons]. But that would only have been included to address the reduced ability of teams to get promoted. That is now not the case."
Contrary to earlier reports of a possible U-turn, there was no discussion over Rangers being voted into the SPL or the formation of SPL2.
An SPL statement read: "It was agreed that the SPL would work with the Scottish FA, SFL and Rangers to facilitate Rangers taking their place in the third division."
Dunfermline Athletic, who also contested the vacant SPL position, were last night considering legal action over a leaked email reportedly sent by Stewart Regan, the Scottish Football Association chief executive, suggesting Dundee's promotion was a fait accompli.
Ralph Topping was re-elected as non-executive chairman; Aberdeen's Duncan Fraser and Kilmarnock's Michael Johnston replaced Steve Brown of St Johnston and Motherwell's Derek Weir on the SPL board.