SPL Chairman, Ralph Topping, recently wrote to the chairmen of the so-called ‘rebel ten’, requesting that they withdraw their resolution to change the league’s voting structure:
He believes that the existing set-up should be maintained, despite the fact that the majority of clubs in the SPL perceive it to be undemocratic and unfairly weighted in favour of Celtic and Rangers.
His letter suggests that the clubs have created uncertainty among potential investors and have unsettled the commercial interests of the league. Indeed, he claims, two contracts have already been lost as a result.
I think Ralph Topping may have been taking lessons from the David Cameron and George Osborne School of Spin:
If there is an appetite for a change that you don’t want, simply stir up feelings of uncertainty over future financial security as a direct consequence of that change; make it sound more frightening for those who want to instigate the change, and hope that they back down. It usually works.
But exactly why has Ralph Topping felt the need to object to changing the voting structure in so public a manner, using this particular line of argument?
Whilst he will claim that he has the commercial interests of the SPL at heart, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch of the imagination to believe that his motive for speaking out is that he simply doesn’t want to alienate Celtic (and Rangers, speaking through their Administrators).
In his view, the latter are likely to be the sole reason why the SPL is able to attract commercial contracts in the first place, so perhaps it is best not to challenge the existing arrangements that happen to suit them.
But in the mind of those seeking change, Topping’s line of argument must come dangerously close to suggesting that the inequality they see within the current set-up is a necessary condition for the continued survival of the entire league.
In other words – “you might not like it, but be gracious and accept it; inequality is the best deal you are going to get”.
The problem I have with Topping’s argument is that it looks rather flimsy. Despite what he claims, it just looks as if he is trying to preserve the interests of the minority who generate the majority of revenue for the SPL, rather than preserve the interests of the SPL as a whole.
Perhaps for Topping, these interests are one and the same? He should just come out and say as much.
So I have a degree of sympathy for the other ten clubs. But whilst Topping’s line of argument looks like spin, so too does that of the ‘rebel ten’, who appear to lack unity in terms of their demands beyond changing the voting structure. They know they want change, but they don’t know what they will do with it when they get it.
And I just don’t buy into the argument put forward by certain ‘anonymous’ chairmen (which undoubtedly a changed voting structure would be used to bring about), that a fairer distribution of SPL revenue would help to improve the game in Scotland.
To begin with, it could be argued that there is nothing ‘unfair’ about the existing distribution of revenue. After every team has been given an equal share of almost half of the pot, each team is then rewarded according to its finishing position, with the first and second placed teams receiving more than everyone else:
(Whilst this has favoured Celtic and Rangers for most of the years that the SPL has existed, it is not too different from other results-oriented businesses, in which the highest rewards are reserved for the best performers.)
Sadly, even if the voting set-up did change, and a redistribution of commercial revenue occurred, the financial situation in Scottish football would mean that any additional income from the remaining pot would be quite small anyway, and it would more likely go towards covering existing players’ salaries and repaying debts, rather than being invested in the development of youth academies and modernising playing facilities.
So whilst Topping’s motive appears to be that the interests of the minority should be considered ahead of those of the majority, because of their perceived commercial clout, I think the ‘rebel ten’ are in danger of appearing to be more interested in getting their hands on additional money to cover their costs and service their debts, than bringing about changes for the benefit of Scottish football.
And why not? Football, the beautiful game, is an ugly business. Football chairmen are out to get the best deal possible for their own clubs; all twelve of them.
Representatives of the ‘rebel ten’ are scheduled to meet again on Thursday this week. It will be interesting to see whether the true underlying motives of all concerned are revealed at any point in the process.