A BREAKAWAY Scottish football super-league, to be unveiled today, is seen by the bigger clubs as the only way to maintain and improve the financial viability of the game in Scotland.

If agreed, it will seek to emulate the success of the Premier League south of the Border in maximising the commercial revenue available, particularly from television, thus creating a virtuous circle of higher investment, better players, and a more attractive game for spectators, sponsors and broadcasters.

It could also be the key to bringing to Scotland the UK's first pay-per-view matches, where digital TV subscribers pay to watch their chosen match on an individual channel.

Tony Fraher, chief executive at merchant bank Singer & Friedlander which launched the first Football Fund earlier this year, said: ''Scotland is the ideal testing-ground for pay-per-view. They can't bring it in here (in England) without agreement on all sides in 1999.''

A pay-per-view deal could be woven into an overall TV package and benefit all the top clubs, as well as the leading group which would be attractive to pay-per-view, Mr Fraher said.

The top clubs were clearly ''pre-planning to get themselves organised as an entity prior to the negotiations - everything comes up in Scotland next year''.

Lex Gold, the director of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce who is also chairman of Hibs, said the plan would ''transform Scottish football'' and it ''took account of the position of all the teams in Scottish football, not just the top ten''.

But the top two have surely led the way.

Rangers chairman David Murray earlier this year observed pointedly how an English Premier League club like Southampton received #4m a year from BSkyB - the same amount as the entire Scottish League - while pay-per-view could be worth #5m a year each to Rangers and Celtic.

And last month Celtic chairman Fergus McCann warned, in his formal statement accompanying the club's results, of the ''need for a more productive structure for the full-time professional club''.

Football has not always been known for its commercial confidentiality, which makes all the more impressive the secrecy maintained around the plans, and the more likely their implementation.

Mr Gold said: ''We have seen tremendous confidentiality over a long period of time, it is quite remarkable that the clubs have come together.''

The expiry next summer of the clubs' three-year television contracts, with BSkyB, BBC and STV, along with the renegotiation of the league's sponsorship now with Bell's, has concentrated the top chairmen's minds on achieving a result this season.

It was in April that the 10 Scottish Premier secretly commissioned Deloitte & Touche, who produce an annual review of football finance, to draw up a report.

Hugh Nash, at brokers Greig Middleton, commented: ''Having an independent report was an important issue. From that there is a recommendation, and they are carrying out the


He added: ''It will give clubs a much better financial structure than they have got at the moment. It might be able to give the market much more comfort that income is available.''

All super-league members would have to ensure that their stadium and facilities were up to standard, Mr Nash said. ''To do that they will have to make sure that everyone gets funded properly.''

Mr Fraher commented: ''How super can they make it?'' None of the analysts see a new structure producing any more candidates for a stock market quotation, other than those already considering it - Hibs and Aberdeen - to add to the three clubs with shares.

Rangers is traded privately on the Ofex, where it is the third largest stock with a market value of #178m. Celtic was listed on the AIM in 1995 and is valued at #91m.

Hearts, worth only #14m when listed in May, is currently capitalised at under #11m - half the value of Southampton.

But as in England, the super-league will need to address how the clubs they leave behind will survive, to maintain the overall health of the game.

At Price Waterhouse, who publish an annual financial review of Scottish football, East of Scotland partner in charge, Ian Dewar, said the breakaway was an attempt to increase the size of the cake, by packaging better what football had to sell, but also to cut the slices more thickly in favour of the top clubs.

But he added: ''This must be a two-pronged situation. Otherwise, for the clubs which are relegated, the prospect could be horrific.''

In England, clubs relegated from the Premier League receive a 'golden parachute', a cash compensation payment to soften the fall out of the big money arena.

PW's recent report warned: ''Without the proceeds of sales of players and surplus land, clubs in the First Division are incurring losses. As a result, half of the clubs have incurred significant debts.''

The report suggested that cash should be channelled to the clubs with strong youth development programmes, to counter the problem of not enough indigenous talent emerging to compete with expensive foreign imports.


Manchester United #430m

Newcastle United #184m

Rangers #178m

Arsenal #151m

Tottenham Hotspur #96m

Aston Villa #95m

Celtic #91m

Caspian (Leeds United #64m

Burnden Leisure (Bolton) #48m

Sunderland #27m

Southampton #22m

Millwall #16m

Hearts #11m