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Beleaguered league

Douglas Fraser | 14:18 UK time, Monday, 4 May 2009

It was a brave Celtic tiger cub that tried to take on the big cats of football broadcasting, and for several years, Setanta did so quite successfully.

But a combination of recession and the loss of key games in the English premiership to its main rival, Sky, have left the Irish company on the edge of a financial precipice.

The most acute problem it faces is in a £35m fee due for English football within two weeks.

But it is in discussion with commercial partners across its pay-TV broadcasting portfolio about re-negotiation, from the golfing PGA Tour to cricket's Indian Premier League, with a total annual rights bill from next year of £120m.

That includes the Scottish Premier League.

Setanta broke through to the international big-time through Scottish football, having previously made a modest living from 1990 by beaming Irish sport to Irish ex-pats in Britain.

The SPL's club members have a special general meeting this Thursday morning at Hampden, with the Setanta contract understood to be top of the agenda.

The clubs face the prospect of a nasty knock-on financial crunch if its Setanta contract from next year has to be pared down.

The contract is important to balancing some precariously balanced club books over the next few years.

It was for £125m over the four years starting from next year - more than doubling the amount they paid for the current four year period.

It's reported Setanta, under a new management team led by Sir Robin Miller, previously of EMAP, wants to cut the length of that agreement, and also reported that it would settle for a 20% cut across the four years.

It's also reported the original deal was not supported by Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen, who would have preferred the SPL to go with Sky, but they were out-voted by smaller clubs.

Because it affects the season starting next year, it should not be money that's already committed by the football clubs.

But a cutback would certainly constrain their plans, when recession was already putting a chill through the boardrooms.

And while the bigger clubs may not face the worst pain of a cut in TV income, it would have the biggest impact on clubs such as Motherwell, where Mark McGhee has warned Setanta's financial problems could have "catastrophic" effects on Scottish football, making it hard for him to hold on to key players.

There are knock-on implications also for the Scotland team's away matches in World Cup qualifiers, which were separately negotiated with foreign football associations.

First Minister Alex Salmond has criticised the lack of free TV access to Scotland's qualifiers.

Would Rupert Murdoch's Sky like Setanta to fail? Possibly not, as there is a much bigger player which could be interested in picking it up cheaply and making inroads into the British pay-TV sports market.

And ESPN is a much more serious rival to the Murdoch's sports broadcasting empire than the Irish company has been.


  • Comment number 1.

    This is interesting assuming of course you're interested in football which frankly, I'm not.

    I am however interested in and have participated in Scottish motor racing at Knockhill and elsewhere. Sadly, it never reported on either BBC Scotland nor STV and hardly ever figures in the press and this is despite record grids this year and increasing numbers of spectators.

    I really don't care whether Setanta goes bust or not. What I'd like to see is our local providers covering a broader range of sport.

  • Comment number 2.

    Can't feel a lot of sympathy for " pay for " tv companies or the football clubs who deal with them. The punters always come last where these people are concerned. The BBC should also be banned from paying these television companies for highlights of sporting events ; this is one of the BBC's more stupid uses of public money, paying it's competitors for old TV footage.

  • Comment number 3.

    #1 Wee-Scamp

    Agree 100%. Let's forget football and start giving coverage to the many sports where Scotland has world class winners: e.g. cycling, snooker, tennis, curling, etc.

    This would have two very big benefits:

    1. Sectarian thuggery is unknown in these sports.
    2. The people who particpate in these sports are not spoiled, ungrateful brats who get paid millions but are so stupid they bite the hand that feeds them by making rude gestures to the very people who make it all possible for them.

    These two reasons alone are good reasons why we should care less about football and not a whit about Setanta.

  • Comment number 4.

    It got my ire when the BBC stumped up for English Qualifying matches but let Scottish one's fall by the wayside to bids from Sky & Setanta. It's a fairness thing - and not one Alex Salmond has ever included in his justifications for a Scottish Broadcasting corporation, but one I personally identify with.

    I don't watch television for anything other than landmark sporting events - and even then only in a pub or bar when I can't personally attend them. To hell with paying £140 a year or £30 a month for any television packages. Can you watch 200 channels at once or RECORD just ONE of them without breaking copyright law in doing so?

    I know that sometime soon they will dictate that using the internet will be subject to a "license fee" - in which case they should call it the "Internet License" - Almost as ridiculous sounding as it's television namesake.

  • Comment number 5.

    Agree with #1 and #3. I'm willing to bet that most Scottish people have little to no interest in football. The Scottish political and pundit classes just like to pretend it's important because they want to appear down to earth.

  • Comment number 6.


    I assume you have no interest in betting either then!!!

  • Comment number 7.

    I have to say the comments so far have been very negative towards Scotland's interest in Football. Let's get realistic here, football is the most popular, well attended and widely played sport in the country. For that reason, it my opionon that the re-negotiating of the current Setanta deal has the potential to be very financially damaging to SPL clubs and could directly be responsible for the degrading of the standard and therefore the attendance at Scottish football games.

  • Comment number 8.

    I'm living in the US for a while, and with a normal cable package - Setanta is not available for me add. Are they really relying only on domestic customers to fund their tv-rights? The sports market in the UK is saturated - there is no more money to be made. If they don;t widen their net then it is no bu surprise they are struggling.

  • Comment number 9.

    I'm not sure where all the negativity from posters 1, 3 and 5 comes from? Number 5 said, "I'm willing to bet that most Scottish people have little to no interest in football" which is clearly not true! Football permeates all levels of Scottish society.
    Setanta's situation is worrying for Scottish football though They've been through similar problems before and survived.

  • Comment number 10.


    I stand by my claim. If Scottish football was truly as popular as you claim, it wouldn't face a constant financial struggle to survive.

  • Comment number 11.

    Let me get this right, jimsmit

    You imply that because of Setanta the standard of Scottish football is high and attendances are good?! I would suggest the business model is the complete opposite. If you were a subscription channel, you'd want punters to be signing up to you and NOT going to the games. Other than Ibrox and Celtic Park, this would seem to be (not) supported in the pages on Monday's football supplements, with banks of empty seats as backdrops.

    Think back to football in its prime when there were record attendances at matches. Funny that, no television games! Clubs can't have it both ways: if they take TV's shilling they can't complain when times get tough and they can't rely on drawing in supporters who are being served up poor entertainment for increasing admission prices.

    Scottish football is living outwith its means and has an over-inflated opinion of its own value.

  • Comment number 12.

    The whole of Scottish football tends to struggle due to the vast majority suporting the old firm all over Scotland.

  • Comment number 13.


    Said "Football permeates all levels of Scottish society." ....

    Sadly I think you are probably right and this goes a long way to explaining why it is that other sports are given so little air time and generally not reported in the other media. However, it's a very sad reflection on Scottish society that it has become a "one sport" nation and that the sport happens to be the most simplistic and the one with the least real challenges.

  • Comment number 14.

    You could say that Christianity permeates all levels of Scottish society, but it wouldn't really be true. It's the same as football, a declining institution which our pundits give excessive attention to.


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