On Saturday afternoon, the first of the Scottish Communities League Cup semi-finals took place. Featuring rivals Ayr and Kilmarnock, it was the biggest ever Ayrshire derby, possibly the closest both teams will ever get to a winner takes all match between the two.
With a 1pm kick off, it was the first game to kick-off in Scotland, with the four remaining SPL fixtures (Celtic played in the second semi on Sunday) starting at 3pm. But strangely, BBC Scotland had no television coverage of the game, electing to show Celtic vs. Falkirk on Sunday afternoon. While that tie has its attractions too, with Celtic being SPL leaders and favourites to win the trophy, and Falkirk having earlier knocked holders Rangers out of the competition, it’s another example of Scottish broadcasters not doing enough to help Scottish football.
In the past, BBC Scotland and STV have shown plenty of live Scottish football. It’s not that long since the BBC actually had the rights to show live SPL matches, with a contract that ended after the 03/04 season. But since then, the BBC have only had highlights shows, with first Setanta and then Sky Sports & ESPN securing the rights to show live SPL matches. It’s been even longer since STV showed live Scottish league games, but up until very recently, they did at least show live Champions League ties when Rangers or Celtic reached the group stages of the competition. But STV no longer even shows the one Champions League fixture that ITV has, having elected not to show these games (or ITV’s FA Cup fixtures or highlights) in a bid to save money.
Money is, of course, a major issue in Scottish football, and the current TV deal with Sky and ESPN is lower than previous contracts. Scottish football finds itself in a catch 22 situation, needing more money to improve the quality of the game, but being unable to pay the kind of wages required to keep the best players in Scotland in the Scottish game. This leaves clubs outside the Old Firm having to retool each summer, letting their best players go for nothing or small fees, in order to bring in cheaper players from elsewhere.
Although Rangers and Celtic can still buy players for millions of pounds and pay relatively competitive wages, even Scotland’s two biggest clubs are still unable to prevent their best players from moving on if they receive the right offers. Rangers are currently struggling to hold onto top scorer Nikica Jelavic, with many Premier League clubs credited with interest, while Celtic have faced similar problems with Gary Hooper and James Forrest linked with moves to the English leagues too.
But Scottish broadcasters seem to have little interest in trying to secure more live coverage of Scottish football. The only coverage the other three divisions in Scotland get is radio reports on certain games, or live matches should they draw Celtic or Rangers in either domestic cup competition. It seems that Scotland is one of the few countries that doesn’t have the rights to domestic football, and doesn’t seem to want it either.
The coverage of the SPL on Sky and ESPN is hardly comprehensive, and it often feels like both networks put as little time and effort into their coverage as possible. Inevitably, the four SPL Old Firm matches get the most attention, but other than the Edinburgh derbies between Hibs and Hearts, it is rare for either network to show games that feature neither Old Firm side.
If BBC Scotland and STV can’t afford to invest significantly in Scottish football alone, why not do it together? If both got together and secured the rights to the League and Scottish Cups, they could each have 1 semi-final for both competitions, with one showing the League Cup final, and the other showing the Scottish Cup final. Do the same for European competitions, and make sure that every game involving a Scottish club in the Champions League or Europa League is shown live on domestic television.
Instead, Scottish football will have to rely on Sky and ESPN continuing to have an interest in the game. It seems unlikely that future television deals will increase in value, and as a result, the quality of the Scottish game will continue to drop.
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