THE lingering hangover from the collapse of Setanta was a key factor in SPFL clubs accepting the renewal of the league’s broadcast contract with Sky, with sources who attended a meeting of the 12 Premiership clubs telling Herald Sport that fears of a repeat were played upon to encourage them to vote for the deal.

The top clubs in the country met at the SPFL’s Hampden headquarters last summer as the case was made for voting through a new deal with Sky. They heard from SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster and respected rights advisor Phil Lines, who was the long-time Director of International Broadcasting and Media Operations with the English Premier League.

The advice given was to accept the deal on offer from Sky without taking the rights renewal through an official tender process, and Herald Sport understands that Doncaster warned of the risk of dire consequences if clubs didn’t accept the terms on offer from Sky to tie up the rights until 2029.

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Doncaster met some resistance from clubs, notably Rangers, who wanted to explore the viability of attracting interest from other broadcasters by taking the rights through an official tender process.

Ultimately though, the SPFL changed league rules to force through the deal at the second attempt, with the Ibrox club the only Premiership club failing to respond to a vote on a resolution recommending the extension of the Sky contract within the 28-day time limit.

Martin Ross, a media rights expert and the Global News Editor of Sport Business, thinks that Sky have taken advantage of the close relationship they have formed with the SPFL – which was bolstered further throughout the Coronavirus pandemic – to strike while they held a position of strength over the league.

“I think the bit that gets missed when the public and the media up here are asking why this happened, is that nobody really looks at it from Sky’s perspective,” Ross said. “We always look at it from the league’s perspective.

“If you look at Sky and the SPFL, their relationship is very close. Sky helped the SPFL through a pretty tough period during Covid. They were very accommodating in terms of what the rebate was, the percentage they were paid back.

“They helped them out with pay-per-view and the streaming capability, so while the relationship was already pretty close, it became really close at that moment in time.

“It definitely laid the ground for these initial talks over renewal. In my mind, this was almost a pre-emptive strike from Sky, and it left the SPFL with a number and an offer, and it was then up to the SPFL to calculate whether they would get a better deal by running a tender.

“A lot of the cards were in Sky’s hands, they had quite a strong hand, and who is to say the Sky number would have been as high as it is now had they gone to tender? That would be the power that Sky would have. They could say that if you do go tender, this offer is not on the table. So, that nuance gets lost a little bit.

“I was a bit disappointed, like lots of other observers, that they didn’t have a full tender. But I think that bit is really important.

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“They will also have spoken with the others. They worked with a guy called Phil Lines, who used to sell the international TV rights for the Premier League in England, he’s a very well-respected guy.

“So, I am sure they will have spoken to the others, but given the dynamic that I’ve explained regarding Sky, I would expect the others didn’t have much of a chance to bid.

“Who knows the number they would have come up with, or if they could have trumped the figure Sky put forward?

“I can understand why people and fans would look at that and say, ‘well hang on a minute, why did we need to do it now?’”

One of the main sticks that is used to beat the SPFL broadcast deal by its detractors is how it stacks up against comparable leagues, such as the Swedish Allsvenkan.

SPFL chief executive Doncaster has argued that the deal compares favourably to the one Swedish football is able to attract on a per-game basis, but critics point out that the deal with Sky actually locks up all 228 fixtures, while only actually showing a fraction of those on television. The per-game value as a result of taking all 228 fixtures into account would rank amongst the worst in Europe.

Dr Dan Plumley, a football finance expert and principal lecturer on Sport Finance at Sheffield Hallam University, says that the dissatisfaction with the SPFL deal, particularly from the perspective of the bigger clubs like Rangers, is perfectly understandable.

“You are always looking for benchmarks, and that’s a challenge,” Plumley said.

“You don’t always get the full broadcasting deal figures around Europe, but we roughly know that the SPFL deal is in the top 20 broadcast deals in Europe. It’s between 15th and 20th place.

“What part of Rangers’ argument will have been is that the league – and particularly Rangers and Celtic within that – are worth more than they are getting.

“I do think there is some truth in that from a value point of view, because at the moment, it is behind some of the Scandinavian leagues.

“You would definitely say that it should at least be on a par with those, if not, a little bit higher. The gap even to The Championship south of the border is quite vast.

“So, I do think there is more value to be had from that deal, but for the league, there is a bit of risk and reward. They are sort of hedging their bets a little bit.

“They will be asking whether there is more money to be made and how do they make that, but at the same time, will be trying to make sure they are benefitting as many clubs as possible.

“I’m betting there were a few clubs who were more than happy with the TV deal, because that generates them a significant amount of income, and they would be quite happy with that.

“You always come back to that challenge of the individual clubs versus the collective league position.”