Updated: May 27, 2020

Why the SPFL losing its title sponsor is not the hammer blow some think it is…. and why Maple Syrup Donuts might be the answer..

It has been six years since the SPL and SFL merged to form the imaginatively-named SPFL. Yet, after aligning their operations in 2013, our nations pyramid went two full seasons without a major title sponsor. A strong start.

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone reading this that the SPFL are not particularly great at negotiating sponsorship deals and television contracts. However, with Scotland’s professional set-up set to lose its title sponsor at the end of the current season, it’s not the “hammer blow” one Scottish newspaper described it as. And it might even provide the organisation with an opportunity to be innovative. I said might!

In terms of what the league is losing in revenue; a certain bookmaker, which will remain unnamed, has sponsored the country’s four top divisions since 2015–16. They paid £2m per year for the inaugural two seasons of their partnership, which increased to £2.5m per season for the latter two. This may sound like a sizeable figure, but pre SFL and SPL merger, the two organisations brought in upwards of £3m per season with Clydesdale Bank and Irn-Bru sponsoring the respective divisions. The deal with Ladbr- sorry, ‘Bookmaker A’ was only announced after the SPFL had gone two successive seasons without a major sponsor. A proverbial ‘panic buy’. Or purchase? Something like that.

Other than the inflow of revenue, said company have not been a great sponsor for our game. Their Twitter account has, on multiple occasions, treated Scottish Football with contempt. They only add to the English “my nan” mantra, in which Scottish football is looked down on with disdain by fans and pundits south of the border. Their TV adverts on Scottish games just featured the same two Rangers goals for the first three months of last season. “Backing Scottish Football” may have been their slogan. But the reality? Nothing of the kind.

Scottish football is blighted with an over-reliance of sponsorship from gambling companies. Both Scottish Cup and League Cup also have bookmaker backers. Along with the cup competitions, three Premiership clubs also have gambling companies as their primary shirt sponsor. The saturation of which became all the more apparent after Brian Rice’s admission of gambling addiction. And with legislation proposed on an imminent banning or, at least, severe restricting of gambling advertising within a sporting context, alternative plans must be made. The end of the current partnership provides Scottish football with the opportunity to try and get ahead of the curve and not be blindsided if and when new laws are enacted that could severely affect revenue streams for Scottish clubs.

Assuming the worst-case scenario, in which the SPFL would not be able to replace the title sponsor, any financial blow will be softened by a sizable increase in television revenue. Next season will see the SPFL and Sky Sports enter the first of a five-year deal for TV rights which will see revenues rise from £23m to approximately £32m per season. This flexibility provides Neil Doncaster and his cronies some bargaining power.

The SPFL is now, via the new TV deal, in a position where they are not forced to accept the first offer that arrives. They should remind potential suitors that 2.1% of the population will see their branding in the stadium every week and an additional 200,000 or so TV viewers will be reached, 74 times over the course of a season. In terms of a replacement partner, the League should be looking for a fee upwards of £3m per season.

They could even accept a slightly lower offer from a Scottish company if it was mutually beneficial. For example, if a Scottish company such as Brewdog, LoganAir or Skyscanner wanted to grow their brand in the country and looked to establish a rapport with the League that could grow into a lucrative long-term relationship, then the SPFL would be foolish to pass that up. The same could be said if a company expanding into the Scottish market wanted that volume of exposure.

One such company does exist — Canadian coffee chain Tim Hortons turned over US$3bn in 2016 and have been growing ever since. In 2017, they opened their first UK store in Glasgow and currently have 21 locations in the UK; with 11 of those residing in Scotland, including two right outside SPFL grounds — Ochilview & Broadwood (Sorry Clyde fans, but Stenny is the hometown of our head editor). The coffee and donut chain would be an ideal partner for SPFL; one that is looking to grow its brand in Scotland and the UK and has the money available to spend £3–5m on marketing by sponsoring the most-watched sporting competition in the country. They also have the added bonus of not having the moral baggage that a Gambling or an Alcohol company would bring with them to the SPFL’s brand.

Also, the “Tim Hortons Premiership” is a bit of a jam. It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

Words: Alex Marr

Photography: Connor Stewart

Location: Ochilview Park

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