Dismayal at Scottish football deal

Rose Major

One of the chairmen of a high-profile Scottish soccer club has hit out at the deal signed yesterday between the Scottish Premier League, BSkyB and ESPN. The league has negotiated a much-reduced deal with BSkyB and ESPN for live rights, following the closure of Setanta Sports. The £65 million over three years compares with the £125 million over four years Setanta had agreed to pay.

John Reid, chairman of Celtic said that the high cost of the Setanta deal was a “diasatrous misjudgment” that had led to the broadcaster’s demise and to the current “uncompetitive TV market.”

Reid said: "Last year's decision to reject the Sky bid and opt for Setanta – arrived at against the strong opposition of Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen – has proved to be the disastrous misjudgment we indicated it might be, with Setanta now in administration.

"In turn, this has led to the dilemma we now find ourselves in. Today the SPL accepted a bid that is less than half the value of that offered by Sky last year.

"The whole SPL is now a commercial victim, in an uncompetitive TV market, in the middle of a recession, locked in for years to an income some 60% lower than last year's bid.”

Celtic and another powerful club, Rangers, had been considering bidding for the rights and launching their own channel to air them. Reid said the clubs “reserve the right to continue to explore these options not only for the longet-term benefit of Celtic football club but for everyone involved.”

But Lex Gold, chairman of the SPL, hit back saying that while everyone was "disappointed" with Setanta's demise, the bids at the time were credible and strong and that the SPL took a collective decision to plump for Setanta.

"At the time, the clubs approved the Setanta deal by majority. Had we delayed to the normal timetable for going to market we would have been in the middle of the biggest downturn the economy has seen in decades.

"The SPL is a democratic organisation and that process sparks debate and differing views. Lessons have been, and are being learned, but our clubs today agreed that there was little value in reheating past disagreements."

Under the terms of the deal signed, BSkyB and ESPN will each show 30 live games each season in the UK and Ireland, starting from next month and continuing until the end of the 2011/2012 season. There is a two-year renewal option, in the hands of the SPL.

ESPN has already mopped up the English Premier League rights that were vacated by Setanta, and earlier in the month announced its plans to rebrand its ESPN America channel as ESPN on August 3, in time for the start of the new football season. The channel will be on Sky Digital and ESPN remains in talks for distribution on other pay platforms.

Lex Gold, Chairman of the SPL, said: “We are pleased that in just over three weeks we have been able to strike this deal. Sky and ESPN are two of the biggest names in sports broadcasting and they will bring first class production standards and a wide audience to the table.

Barney Francis, Managing Director of Sky Sports, said: "This new deal gives Sky Sports viewers 30 live matches a year, including each of the Old Firm games, all in HD. And it gives the Scottish Premier League clubs stability and continued investment from committed partners. ?

"Sky Sports has covered the Scottish game since our launch 18 years ago – we are long term supporters.”