NEIL DONCASTER, the chief executive of the Scottish Premier League, has revealed clubs face a "slight" reduction in broadcasting income but warned fans would still need to increase their support to avert financial hardship.

ESPN yesterday followed Sky Sports in announcing a five-year agreement with the SPL that also allows them to show Rangers matches from the Irn-Bru Third Division. ESPN confirmed they would show 30 SPL encounters and 10 Rangers tie, starting with Hibernian's visit to Dundee United tomorrow.

The broadcasters had been due to sign a new £16m annual contract to replace their £13m-a-year deal this summer, but the collapse of Rangers had given them an exit clause. "There will be money coming out the game as a result of Rangers not being in the top flight," said Doncaster. "We will not be announcing figures at this stage. The numbers are down slightly and it's really for clubs to work with supporters to try to maximise income through the gates."

The SPL had privately warned of a potential £15.7m shortage in TV revenue if the new Rangers ended up in the third division, which included the loss of £2.7min overseas deals that rely heavily on Old Firm games. "There will be a seven-figure sum that we will be short," Doncaster said. "There is significant damage done, particularly to overseas rights, and it's up to clubs to try to fill that gap."

Doncaster defended his worst-case scenario warnings, which were intended to persuade Scottish Football League clubs to allow Rangers to begin in the first division. He said: "If we hadn't pointed that out it would have been irresponsible. We've been able to work with broadcast partners and bring money in. They had the right to [walk away], but Sky and ESPN have stood by Scottish football."

Doncaster rejected claims, fuelled by Malcolm Murray, the Rangers chairman, that deals were being done to accelerate the Ibrox club's progress through the divisions. "The broadcasters have made no stipulations about any club and where they might be within league structure," he said. "We've agreed a way forward that reflects the fact Rangers are not in the SPL."