By Paul Hughes:
CUT your own throat or blow your own brains out.
Not much of a choice really. Yet it pretty much sums up the dilemma faced by the SFL right now.
Through absolutely no fault of their own, the 30 member clubs of the Scottish Football League have to make one of the most important decisions in the history of our game.
The clock is ticking and the world is watching.
Do they let Rangers Newco begin life in the Third Division and unleash, ahem, hell?
Or do they shoe-horn the Ibrox outfit into the First Division to protect their pockets and risk the wrath of fans determined there won’t be one rule for one club and one for another.
I was at Hampden on Tuesday when the SFL representatives stumbled out of their five hour meeting, dazed and confused like they were staggering away from a 30-car pile-up on the M8.
That’s no surprise considering the volume of information they had to digest, the gravity of the decision on their shoulders and the pressure applied by Stewart Regan and Neil Doncaster.
It’s been done though. The fate of our game now lies in the hands of the SFL.
And as David Longmuir warned this week, it’s time for everyone else to back off.
Happier times for Kilmarnock just months ago, but do they now face financial hardship? Photo by Gary McLaughlin
The lack of leadership throughout this saga has been appalling. Both the SPL and SFA have let the issue fester all summer before dumping it in the backyard of their little cousins.
There’s one thing the SPL don’t seem to be getting here though. They have absolutely no right making any sort of demands.
When do they realise their league is bust? Shorn of credibility and respect, sooner or later they have to wake up and accept it’s time to get down on one knee and beg.
All I hope is the SFL are strong enough to stay on their feet long enough to look down and see the begging bowl.
I’m not daft, I know there is going to be financial sacrifice. I just don’t think it’s going to be as catastrophic as we’re led to believe.
This might come back to bite me in the backside when the game is in the gutter and I’m on the dole because there’s no football to sell my paper – but I’ll take my chances.
This doomsday scenario being forced down our throats sounds scary enough. It’s no wonder the chairmen are breaking out in cold sweats at the thought of how they actually replace the money.
Which is something that not a lot of people in power has talked about. Funny that, eh?
All this week I’ve had casual conversations with a number of different people, all within different industries attached to our game.
I spoke to a marketing expert who handles several major accounts in Scottish football. Are we about to wither and die if Rangers go to the Third Division? The simple answer was no.
The Sky deal will get re-negotiated, of that there’s no doubt. But for what the clubs lose in revenue, they gain in more guaranteed TV exposure.
They might get less money up front, but with more time on the box that suddenly becomes more appealing to the sponsors of individual clubs.
And talking about sponsors…all these rumours companies will jump ship if Rangers disappear is also unproven. There may be some of Rangers’ backers who walk away – Lomond Audi for example – but is that REALLY the case for the league and the other clubs?
Now, I didn’t study marketing or economics. But when you consider this whole thing was driven by the will of the fans, surely the sponsors realise deserting the game means there’s every chance their customer base will return the favour and ditch them?
Take Sky for example. The money they pump into Scotland is a drop in the ocean to them. It’s roughly one per cent of their total budget. The interesting point is that in Scotland, subscriptions per head is higher than anywhere else in the UK.
It might be a very simplistic view, but I just don’t see it being worth their while pulling out of Scotland and losing more than they would save not paying to broadcast the SPL.
In total, Sky has 10.5m customers. One million of those are reported to be in Scotland. The majority of them will have a Sky Sports package.
Packages range from around £20 per month to over £100 for an all-singing, all dancing, multi-room HD, tea-making, dish-washing bundle.
So let’s settle somewhere in the middle. Let’s say there are 500,000 people in Scotland who pay £40-a-month for their Sky. That’s £20 MILLION every month, £240 MILLION every year.
Even if the true figure is half of that, are Sky really going to jeopardise such huge sums of money by pulling out of Scotland and annoying a gigantic customer base?
The point is, this is the side of the story that doesn’t get told when the prophets of doom claim our game is finished.
I’m not saying I’m right, no more than I claim to know the prediciton of £16m being wiped out the game is completely wrong.
But perhaps it would make the SFL’s decision a bit easier if a more balanced projection was put across instead of being pounded with the negatives.
No matter what happens this week, I just hope David Longmuir and his member clubs grasp the chance staring them in the face.
Fourteen years ago the SPL left them behind for the simple reason they were elitist and greedy. It didn’t work. In fact, anyone with half a brain can see they’ve done everything possible to ruin the game. They don’t deserve a second chance.
If Rangers are sent to the Third Division they will survive. It’s what the fans want, it’s what manager Ally McCoist is ready to accept. They will come back cleansed and ready to start afresh.
If Rangers are to end up in the First Division – which there is plenty opposition to – it’s up to Longmuir to insist it’s on the terms of the SFL, terms that lead to their governance of the game.
This week it’s up to the SFL to stand up for themselves and prove to the SPL how foolish they were to breakaway in the first place.
Incidentally, on thing did occur to me sitting in the foyer of Hampden on Tuesday while hysterical talk of a dying game and social unrest flew about the air.
Waiting for the SFL meeting to break up, news filtered through about a plane crash in the Moray Firth.
Suddenly sections of the TV crews and snappers who had hung about all day were on their way, racing to the Highlands for a far more serious story.
This is football, our football. No matter the motives, it always has been and always will be one of the most important aspects of our culture.
Ultimately though, life will go on even if it means a decent wage in the SPL drops from £2,000-a-week to £500-a-week.
No-one has died throughout all this. No-one is going to.
Tragically, that’s more than can be said for the RAF pilots who perished in that awful accident.
Let’s remember that the next time we treat this saga like a case of life and death.
Paul Hughes is a journalist at the Scottish Sun. You can also keep up to date with his new blog at http://smallshoes62.com/, and follow him on twitter at @smallshoes62.