The self preservation league and the fans who want their say

The SPL have taken it upon themselves to invoke some badly needed change - but instead of giving us something new, something fresh and something to get excited about, they’ve only gone and proposed to go back to an old format.

To replace the 12-team league and split format - which hasn’t been a success from the off, it must be said - the SPL want to reduce the number of top flight clubs to ten, a format the SPL actually started with in its inception in 1998, before switching to the 12-team system in 2000.

Not only that, they want to increase their hold on the game by bringing in ten First Division clubs in a 12-team “Championship”, playing each other four times, giving them a whopping 44 matches.

The money men of the clubs have somehow more or less agreed this will be the way forward when it finally comes to a vote at the end of January, but they have overlooked one crucial factor in all this, which will bite them on the bum…the fans.

The fans - How on earth can you ignore this lot...?

Scottish football fans have repeatedly made the point in forums and in the media that they don’t want a 10-team set-up.  That playing the same teams over and over again has become dull, repetitive and a reason why people aren’t stumping up cash to watch the game anymore.To back that view up, Supporters Direct ran a survey of around 5,000 fans asking them about a 10 team top flight and the result was categorical in its findings. 88% said they did not want a smaller top flight, highlighting the repetition of playing the same teams.

On the back of that the SPL Chief Executive Neil Doncaster set about on a charm offensive to persuade to ever-disgruntled punter through a series of radio shows and newspaper interviews that this was progress in a way to improve Scottish football and it was in everyone’s best interests, not just the SPL.

However his arguments kept pointing towards the financial aspect, with Doncaster quoted as saying: “This is not just looking after our own. It's about the best interests of all 42 clubs.”

“If the vote goes against two SPL leagues of 10 then we have the status-quo, but that's something that everyone accepts should not be the case. I think those who want 16 teams in the top flight are deluding themselves.”

"That would take a lot of money out of the game, because clubs would play each other just twice. If you take away half of the big games, you're talking about half of the value being lost - around £7million."If you have more of the big games, with play-offs, then there is more attraction and value in the TV rights. That money will help ease the burden of relegation, as well as give us a chance to hold on to our better players who, at the moment, are drifting away to England because there's more money there."

Rangers v Celtic - one of the bigger games, apparently...

Those quotes came on January 5th when it was announced a league shake-up was on the agenda. But on the back of the McLeish Review, when former Scottish First Minister Henry McLeish identified ways of improving Scottish football as a whole, there was nothing from Doncaster or the SPL about how the game in a widespread sense would benefit.

All the supporters heard was about how it will affect the members clubs financially, showing the “I’m alright, Jack!” attitude the SPL have been accused of showing other teams in the Scottish League for a number of years now.

Another factor has been how the TV companies would view these changes and it appears obvious this move is designed to appease Sky, ESPN and the BBC in preserving four Old Firm matches and four Edinburgh derbies. The rumoured feeling is they wouldn’t be too happy at seeing the two big derbies halved and this, again, leads the motives behind the proposed move back to money and how the clubs would be affected financially.

However, the possible delivery of a 10-12 league set-up has its plus points, but not many it must be said. The abolition of the split is a welcome move, meaning sides have the same number of home and away fixtures against every other side, unlike now when the split creates an imbalance.

The addition of a 12-team SPL 2 could also help to bridge the financial imbalance that currently lies between the SPL and the First Division. For too long now teams that have been relegated from the top flight have found the financial gulf a tough one to cross, so if it’s done in the right way it is workable.

The other positive to take is the introduction of a play-off system to the top flight, which should give the end of the season some much needed drama. It’s proved it has worked in the lower leagues, which has ran it for a few seasons so the time to implement it in the top level is long overdue.

Motherwell fans support the changes - wait, hang on...

But the issue of playing the same teams over and over again is still very much an elephant in the room in terms of how this could work and if the fans aren’t happy, the SPL have to be warned. At the end of the day and as has been seen already, the spectators are losing interest and fast.

If the strength of feeling over these proposals haven’t alarmed them, the loss of the gate and season ticket money, if it happens, will be. The SPL try and supplement that with TV money from Sky and ESPN, but there’s nothing to stop them from pulling the plug at any time.

But they have to make it more attractive for fans to want to come to the matches. Lowering prices would help, after all, are you getting value for money for paying £24 for a game like Kilmarnock vs St Mirren?

Perhaps reducing the amount of matches on TV wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing either. If people are getting to see the same game from the comfort of their home for the price of their Sky subscription rather than spend £20+ and sit in a cold stand in December, we know what a lot of people’s preference will be.

The top clubs have chased the buck and forgotten about the fans and how integral they are to the whole thing. We are reminded that without the fans the game wouldn’t be anything, yet why are the very people that put so much into Scottish football not having their views on the league system heard?

Alienating the real stakeholders, and I don’t mean the businessmen, would be a bad move and they’ll do well to remember that. After all you only need to see how Dundee had to turn to their fans to help them survive following their return to administration a couple of months ago.

If this vote goes ahead and the changes are implemented, the powers that be that insist they are doing it in the best interests of Scottish football could really find out what fan power in Scotland would be all about.

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