Record TV deal could result in Monday night matches for SPL
In the biggest TV contract ever secured by the SPL, Setanta will screen live coverage of 22 matches featuring non-Old Firm clubs in addition to the 38 live games a season it currently shows on a Sunday afternoon. It has yet to be decided when the extra matches will be scheduled but the preferred option is a Monday evening.
The existing 33 million agreement with the satellite broadcaster, struck in the summer of 2004, still had two more seasons to run but has been renegotiated to the end of the 2009-10 campaign.
It is now worth 13.625 million a year to the SPL's 12 member clubs, an increase of over 5 million a year on the initial contract, and is a ringing endorsement of Setanta, which faced widespread scepticism when it claimed the exclusive live rights to SPL matches from the BBC two years ago. Setanta passed its initial target of 89,000 subscribers some time ago and is now understood to have well in excess of 100,000.
Lex Gold, the executive chairman of the SPL, welcomed the new deal yesterday which will also lend considerable support to the league's search for a new title sponsor to replace the Bank of Scotland, which is pulling out when its contract expires at the end of next season.
"We are absolutely delighted to agree an extension to our agreement with Setanta," said Gold. "It is a superb deal for our clubs financially and allows them to plan for the future with increased confidence. Setanta first approached us around three months ago and we were more than happy to renegotiate the contract with them.
"They have been excellent to work with and their production values are outstanding. They have delivered outstanding coverage and the fact they are extending it with another 22 games a season is fantastic news. We had a lot of feedback from supporters who wanted more matches not involving Celtic and Rangers to be covered live and this deal delivers that.
"In terms of getting a new sponsor for the SPL, it is also a considerable boost to be able to offer this level of television coverage as part of the package. We have already done some preliminary work on that front and we are confident we will find a successor to the Bank of Scotland who have been great sponsors for us.
"Attendances at SPL matches have risen by four per cent this year, after a three per cent rise the previous year, so Setanta have helped us in the process of building up the league."
Setanta Sports 1, the company's flagship channel, will move to a full seven-days-a-week schedule in July to prepare for the new SPL season. The introduction of magazine and discussion programmes will supplement Setanta's existing coverage of Italian, Dutch, French and German football.
Colin Davidson, Setanta's head of production, revealed that it has four possible slots for the additional 22 SPL live games, many of which will feature Hearts and Hibs.
"We have to discuss it with the SPL and check with the police authorities," said Davidson, "but at the moment we are looking at either Friday night, Saturday lunchtime, early Saturday evening or a Monday night. I think Monday night would be our preferred option for a regular slot for the extra games."
Davidson, who left a secure position with Sky Sports to spearhead Setanta's foray into Scottish football, is understandably delighted with the success enjoyed by the broadcaster in confounding the sceptics.
"I'm thrilled at what we have managed to achieve in such a short space of time," he said. "There was a lot of doubt about us when the deal was first announced two years ago, perhaps understandably, but I think we have answered that and we look forward to getting bigger and better."
An annual subscription to the Setanta Sports package, which also includes Setanta Sports 2, North American Sports Network, Setanta Ireland, Celtic TV, Rangers TV and Racing World, currently costs 140. It is likely to be increased as a result of the new SPL contract.
"That's under discussion at the moment," said Davidson, "but if the subscription fee does increase, it won't be by a dramatic amount and we will still be providing great value for money."
• The deadline for bids for television rights packages to the Premiership in England expired at 2pm yesterday.
Sky is favourite to land five of the six packages of 23 Premiership games, with a group of other companies competing for packages too.
Sky currently has exclusive rights but the European Commission stepped in to make sure others also get access to live Premiership coverage and Setanta is thought to be the company most likely to secure a package. Other companies including NTL, ITV and Channel 4 are also thought to have been potential bidders.