Initially Neil outlined the SPL reconstruction proposals with a view to further discussion. He confirmed that the SPL plan had not yet been published because it is not yet final.
It is voluminous plan which involved 8 months of research, work with stakeholders, looking at other models that leagues and countries use.
The proposals are driven by the SPL Board. The drivers for change are money, armageddon factor for relegated club (see later), play offs, unfairness of imbalance of home/away games post split, split not universally understood (and certainly not by armchair supporters down south) with armchair fans seeming to want coverage of only top games.
The current proposals, although not yet finalised, would mean more money for whole of Scottish football according to Neil.
Neil felt that the plans must not be short term, but all inclusive for Scottish senior football, albeit geared to full time professional clubs.
Vision is a key part of the document/plan and talks about player development, Scotland improving in Europe and world scene (club and country).
Details of the SPL Plan. Pyramid structure for Scottish football is important and essential. This is not just to look after the elite – the intention is to invite all clubs to be members of the new structure, with divisional voting, but led from the top. There was no mention of where this leaves the SFL, if all clubs were members of the SPL – which may tie in with McLeish’s aim to reduce Scottish Football management overheads.)
League format to be 2 leagues of 10 teams, then the rest with colt teams, leaving the structure to be fully detailed by those involved. The SPL currently envisage 4 – 6 SPL teams fielding colt teams (under 23s) in lower leagues.
The proposals include play-offs for relegation and promotion. Possibly 2nd & 3rd in (2 legged) semi, 8th & 9th in (2 legged) semi then probably a 2 legged final, with a desire to move to a one-off final. Doubt for the moment is the ability to fill somewhere like Hampden for a play off final. Semi final structure open to debate – Neil noted alternative of 8th in top tier vs 3rd in 2nd tier, and 9th in top tier vs 2nd in 2nd tier as alternative. This remains open to debate.
Regionalisation is still on the cards for lower levels. Financial fair play regulations would be implemented in the top 2 leagues
The current under 21 rule to be scrapped, with each team in top tier having the option to field a colt (u23) team in the lower leagues. According to Neil this would allow developing young players to play in a competitive league environment where results mattered. There are issues with current system where players are loaned loaned out from full time clubs to part-time clubs, including training, coaching, tactical development and correct diet. The colt team system has come from German and Spanish leagues where it is viewed as having been successful by the SPL. Neil believes that there may be a spin off of greater media coverage of lower leagues because the bigger clubs are involved.
Annual match calendar plan would be to start earlier and finish earlier. Possibly may be early to mid-July to mid-end April. Winter break would be fixed, but time would be available for use if the weather doesn’t play to the plan. The major issue in fixture planning is that of the restrictions placed in the calendar by the international breaks and the European tournament requirements. This left very little time to fit in the required number of league games without using mid week winter fixtures on occasion.
The financial model depends on significant input from TV companies. There had been preliminary discussions with TV companies whose commercial interest would peak for a 10 team top tier. A split of any sort was undesirable in commercial certainty terms, particularly where planning for TV coverage and hospitality was concerned. A 16 team top flight would mean only 30 games, losing the financial and commercial imperative of 4 Old Firm and Edinburgh derby games. Smaller clubs would “lose out” on TV possibilities for Old Firm and Edinburgh club away games.
The SPL plan to increase the sliding scale of monies payable from the TV deal from the current 12 team to 20 teams under the new set-up avoiding the massive financial penalty of relegation.
The current structure means that the relegated club faces a massive drop in income as they adjust from SPL to SFL. There is a genuine desire amongst the SPL clubs to address this issue, but it will need an increase in total money available for distribution because the top clubs are not going to accept a drop in income to support this. The attractiveness of the 10 team TV deal facilitates this and this is the reason why the SPL believe that the Chairmen of the smaller clubs are likely to vote for a 20 team SPL with a financial structure to avoid the dismantling of a club that is currently necessary with relegation.
The SPL suggest that 16 team top tier may be superficially attractive, but that this attraction will wear off. SPL does not have quality of some other European Leagues (there is not enough money to attract the top players) but while we don’t have quality we have “excitement” and “drama”, which are marketable qualities and are maximised in a 10 team top tier.
SPL teams will not vote for play-offs (meaning an increased risk of relegation) without the financial restructuring that a 10 team top flight will allow.
History suggests that the richer clubs will continue to get richer and that the poorer clubs will continue to get poorer. The SPL plan does not and cannot address this but it does help to secure the future of more clubs, assuming the TV deal is viable. The solution is not one that appeals to supporters at the moment and the SPL is acutely aware of this, hence Neil Doncaster spending time discussing these issues at a series of meetings with Supporters Trusts. The “sweetener” to the 10 team top flight for the spectator is the possibility of 2 teams relegated and promoted each year, which would at least create some kind of opportunity for throughput of teams on a year to year basis.
The difficulty is the desire and requirement of the paying (through the gate) spectator vs the money available for the most attractive TV deal.
SPL accept that the current model is not too bad, but is a diminishing asset in terms of revenue. However, there are the issues noted as drivers for change above.
David and Ian noted our doubts about the likely style of play to be adopted in a 10 team top tier. Neil countered this by the observation that managers did not change their team’s style of play on the basis of the size of the league. Equally, certain managers are prepared to blood young players where as other managers are not prepared to take such risks at all. He argued that the size of the league is not going to have any influence in what managers do in terms of style of play or in terms of playing young players.
We suggested other models of size of league, but were quickly assured that almost all available models had been looked at it it was going to be 10 teams in the top tier or the status quo. Play offs will only come with the injection of cash brought by a 10 team top flight.
The Accies Trust is very grateful to Neil Doncaster and the SPL for a very useful, constructive and informative meeting. We hope that this sort of consultation will become a regular feature of football management. It seems that the fans desire for a larger top tier league in Scotland is not financially viable at the moment and while the Accies Trust reps at the meeting understand this, it does not mean that they would not still prefer to see a larger top tier league with different financial arrangements for the participating clubs.
The Trust are in discussions with Supporters Direct, who are planning to arrange a meeting with other Trusts, to formulate a position to ensure that fans’ voices are heard and understood.
David and Ian will be having an open discussion after this year’s AGM. You are welcome to come along to the AGM to discuss the meeting we had with Neil in more detail. Alternatively, please feel free to contact us via this link.
Your thoughts are very much welcomed and help guide us on how and where the Trust can ensure that Accies fans opinions are shared with the club and the SPL.