Alex Salmond was this weekend urged to capitalise on his relationship with Rupert Murdoch to secure the future of Scottish football.
It comes amid fears that the decision to place Newco Rangers in the Scottish League division three will have serious consequences on revenue from TV rights.
With St Mirren chairman Stewart Gilmour having warned that five clubs in the Scottish Premier League could find themselves in administration “within weeks”, the pressure is now mounting on Scottish ministers to intervene to secure a sound financial platform for the game north of the border.
In its leader on the issue, Scotland on Sunday wrote over the weekend:
“The decision to condemn Rangers to the third division will have consequences, not just for the Ibrox club but for the whole of Scottish football.
“It is important this weekend to look beyond the plight of one club – however powerful – and to the potential cataclysm that could befall our national game if the exit of Rangers from top-flight football for at least three years deprives Scottish football as a whole of millions of pounds, potentially driving some financially precarious clubs to the wall.
“Central to this concern is the worry about revenue from TV companies who buy the rights to broadcast matches.
“Will Sky and ESPN want to pay big bucks to show Rangers v Annan Athletic? Market logic would suggest not, and would also suggest that a TV deal deprived of regular Old Firm clashes would be worth a substantial amount less to a broadcaster.
“The issue, therefore, is whether normal market forces are allowed free reign, causing unbeknown damage across the game, or whether other forces are brought to bear. And this is where the saga begins to take on a political aspect. There is surely a case for an appeal to the broadcasters to show a long-term commitment to Scottish football and continue to invest money for the greater good of the game.
“If broadcasters were to do this, it would help ensure that when and if Rangers regain a place in the Scottish Premier League some years from now, Scottish football could return to full and prosperous health, and not be permanently damaged in the interim.
“But, of course, big multi-national corporations are not often known for generous gestures – even ones that could be argued to be in their long-term financial interest.
• What will happen to Rangers? 5 Mar 2012
• Rangers FC: How a market leader went bust 22 Feb 2012
• Scotland unites in wanting to save Rangers 15 Feb 2012
“If only there was a senior Scottish politician with real clout who had a personal relationship with senior figures at News International, who could call in favours and argue the case for continued financial support at a time of crisis, as a demonstration of the broadcaster’s commitment to Scotland and the Scottish game…
“Of course, that person exists. First minister Alex Salmond famously – or infamously, depending on your point of view – justified his offer to lobby for News International in the BSkyB takeover on the grounds that he was protecting Scottish jobs.
“As we report today, the first minister has signalled in general terms that he is willing to use his muscle to defend Scottish football. This is welcome news as far as it goes, but what is needed is for Salmond to commit to using his relationship with Rupert Murdoch to press for Sky’s continued financial investment in Scottish football.”
With both Scottish Labour and Conservatives urging the first minister to pick up the phone to his “pal” and “best buddy” Rupert Murdoch, his spokesman made clear that the Scottish government stood ready to intervene as might be necessary.
“Once the football authorities finally decide on their course of action and show a willingness for reconstruction and reform, the Scottish government stands ready to use [its] influence to secure the best deals from sponsors.”
The development comes following a weekend in which the Scottish press sought to take the Rangers saga forward. Recognising and accepting the decision made on Friday by the Scottish Football League, there was a widespread feeling that there are now much bigger questions and issues that need addressing.
Seeking to strike an optimistic note, in its editorial on Saturday the Herald outlined its belief that the Rangers saga could in the long room improve Scottish Football.
“Too many clubs have been living beyond their means for too long. Unpleasant as the tangled Rangers saga has been, it should not be unreasonable to hope that the club’s demise and reappearance in the lowest division of the league will eventually prove a pivotal moment from which Scottish football can emerge leaner, fitter and primed for success.”
Focusing on much broader issue the paper continued:
“The running of Scottish football had already been put under the microscope in a wide-ranging report by former first minister Henry McLeish, prompting debate about wide-ranging reform.
“That must now be taken on as a matter of urgency. In the ramifications of the Rangers liquidation, the administration of the game has been exposed to new scrutiny and found wanting.
“When there are three separate bodies, the chief executive of each has a clear duty to promote the best interests of its members. Conflict is inevitable and criticism of individuals for pursuing their own agenda is unhelpful.
“Nevertheless, Stewart Regan, chief executive of the Scottish Football Association, and Neil Doncaster, heading the SPL, have both been so dismissive of the quality of Scottish clubs and the prospects for the game without Rangers in division one poised for an early return to the SPL, that their positions will probably come under scrutiny. Certainly, the time has come for one governing body for Scottish football.”
Writing for the Daily Record meanwhile, former first minister, Henry McLeish, the author of a seminal report into the future of the Scottish game has warned that there are just two years left to save it.
Attacking the lack of progress in implementing his recommendations he argued:
“Two years ago, the game was obsessed with sectarianism to the exclusion of other more important considerations. The season ended has been totally obsessed with six months of the Rangers crisis. Despite all of that, significant and serious problems remain at the heart of the game.
“I believe that football is on trial. Many people who want to see the game do well are losing patience and that is why it is absolutely vital that the whole of the game moves on.
“There is no doubt the seismic and disgraceful events at Ibrox sent shock waves through Scottish football. It has left the game bitterly divided about the fate of that club and has created great anger, emotions and extreme positions on either side. A lot of energy and a lot of time have been lost.
“Meanwhile, we find ourselves 18 months on from my recommendations about the professional game still having made little or no progress. That has to end.”
Striking a more optimistic note however, Stuart Bathgate, chief sportswriter at the Scotsman has argued that the “tough stance” taken against Newco Rangers could prove positive.
Writing on Saturday, he argued:
“Clubs throughout the country have been cutting their budgets, and that usually means a lowering of expectations for fans. Instead, many are now optimistic their teams can put up a real fight for a place near the top.
“It is also probable that clubs throughout the four divisions of the game will be given more enthusiastic backing by supporters thankful for their tough stance on the Rangers issue.
“The fans wanted Rangers to be placed in Division Three, and the officials went along with that wish in the face of considerable pressure. Their principled stance will not be forgotten.”