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SPL takes fresh look at idea of launching TV channel

Rangers' Kyle Hutton and Celtic's Beram Kayal
Opposition from Rangers and Celtic ended plans for SPL TV in 2002

The Scottish Premier League is to reinvestigate the idea of launching a television channel.

A plan for its own station fell by the wayside in 2002 after it failed to gain the support of Celtic and Rangers.

But the SPL has announced that it has selected IMG Media to investigate the feasibility in the current climate.

SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster said: "A number of European football leagues have gone down this route or are currently exploring this option."

IMG Media, a division of global sports and media company IMG Worldwide, is the world's largest independent producer and distributor of sports programming.

And Doncaster hopes to tap into its expertise and experience, with the consultants to advise the SPL board "over the next six months and provide a full evaluation on the potential of an SPL own-channel solution".

"It is vital that the SPL fully understands the risks and rewards from an own-channel solution, as part of our ongoing efforts to improve Scottish football," said Doncaster.

The business plan was there the last time. Even the scheduling of the programming was there

Former SPL chief executive Roger Mitchell

"The concept represents an opportunity for us to shape a unique channel for fans of Scottish football and we look forward to working with supporter groups to hear their views."

The SPL considered its own pay-per-view channel in 2002 when Sky Sports withdrew from the bidding to continue broadcasting live action from Scotland's top-flight after the clubs rejected the company's offer for the television rights.

However, a two-year deal was eventually agreed with BBC Scotland, which currently owns the rights to broadcast highlights of each game on terrestrial TV and online, after which the rights were won by Setanta Sports.

The Irish-based broadcaster again won the rights in 2008 with a deal worth £125m over four years.

Setanta, though, went into administration a year later and the SPL was forced to agree a deal with ESPN and Sky Sports worth around half what Setanta was due to be paying from 2010.

Roger Mitchell, who was SPL chief executive when it last considered its own television channel, thinks his successor is doing the right thing by re-examining the proposal.

"The context is important because the main thing about a channel is that you need it when there are very few bidders around for your television rights," he told BBC Scotland.

"And, in my time in 2001, there was a media recession, there was the Twin Towers and values were depressed and NTL was going out of business and ITV Digital was going out of business - similar to what has happened in the last 18 months with Setanta and the recession and everything like that.

SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster
Doncaster cites other European leagues with their own TV channels

"So it is smart, it is what the SPL should be doing and hopefully we will be able to go into the next round of negotiations with at least another option."

Mitchell points out that the plan faces fewer obstacles within the SPL this time round but admits that the 12 clubs might again shy away from such a risk.

"It was Celtic and Rangers who decided they didn't want to take the risk," he said. "And the other 10 resigned after that and that resulted in the change of the voting rules, which my successor may get the advantage of.

"It is more whether the chairmen want to take money up front on the table from somebody like Sky or want to be in the media game and they want to have the risk of finding out how many subscribers they can attract or retain."

Mitchell's concerns would be the ability to sell in the current recession a product that he believes is not as good as 10 years ago, but he considers it feasible.

"I think Setanta proved, with the amount of subscribers they got, that the business plan was robust and the model of my SPL television would have worked," he said.

"The business plan was there the last time. Even the scheduling of the programming was there.

"Setanta failed because bidding for English football, not because of what happened in Scotland.

"SPL television would have made more than the offer of Sky in 2002. Our market research was based on around 200,000 subscribers. I may be wrong, but Setanta was a wee bit more than that."

Despite all that, Mitchell believes that the SPL TV idea is likely to be merely a useful bargaining chip when negotiating a new broadcasting deal.

"SPL television is a stalker horse to make sure that the bidder doesn't low-ball you too much," he added.

"It is important to go to the negotiating table with more than one option. Neil Doncaster, I think, is being smart in doing this.

"Whether I think SPL TV will end up being the ultimate solution really depends on what ESPN and Sky do.

"If they say get on with it, maybe it will happen this time. If they don't and say 'we'll give you the cheque', all things being equal, the clubs will take the money up front."

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see also
SPL agrees TV deal with Sky/ESPN
16 Jul 09 |  Scottish Premier
Setanta goes into administration
23 Jun 09 |  Business

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