Chief Executive Blog - SPL Start Date 2011/12
SPL Start Date: Easing Fixture Congestion and Boosting UEFA Coefficient
With the SPL announcing 23 July as the start date for season 2011-2012, there will no doubt be questions over how this decision was reached. And, for those SPL clubs who wish to participate in overseas tournaments in July, what the implications are for them. This blog is intended to explain just that.
Over the past 13 years of SPL history, the season start date has been set anywhere between 28 July and 15 August. On five occasions the SPL season has started in July, on four occasions in the first week of August and, on four occasions also, the second week of August.
In most seasons, there is a clear divide between the preferences of SPL clubs.
For those clubs who are fortunate enough to be invited to take part in lucrative friendly matches or tournaments overseas, a later season start date in August is preferable. This allows them to take part in, and earn good money from, those matches, before the SPL season kicks off.
For the other clubs, an early season start date is generally preferred – enabling supporters to bathe in the July sunshine while they support their team. The earlier a season starts, the fewer mid-week fixtures in December, January and February need to be scheduled. And with mid-week games in winter generally suffering from lower attendances than in the summer, an earlier season start date doesn’t just help cash flow; it boosts a club’s overall turnover.
Hence the reason why, at this time of year, the SPL Board has a difficult balancing act to undertake: trying to accommodate the conflicting desires of its 12 member clubs.
One of the key aspects of our Strategic Plan for Scottish football is to move towards an earlier season start date – but not to schedule against World Cup or European Championship matches in June and early July. Such a change has a number of sound footballing and commercial reasons to support it:
• The earlier a season starts, the more battle-hardened SPL players are by the time they compete in the early stages of European completion. Last year for example, Hibernian, Celtic and Dundee United all fell at the first hurdle in Europe. The Swiss, by contrast, seem to punch above their weight in the early stages of European competition. They kick off their domestic programme early in July and attribute much of their European success to their early start date at home. The better that SPL teams do in Europe, the higher the Scottish coefficient; and the more Champions League places that Scottish teams are awarded, creating a virtuous circle benefiting all SPL teams.
• There is no doubt that it is simply a much more pleasant experience going to a game in the warm summer sun on a July Saturday than having to brave the snow and ice on a mid-week February evening – a move that can surely only boost attendances at games.
• By kicking off and concluding our season at the same time as the English, we are diluting the appeal of our games to broadcasters. In contrast, by starting our season ahead of the Premier League, at a time when there is a real shortage of football on TV, we allow our broadcast partners to properly showcase SPL football to the whole of the UK and the rest of the World. And this will inevitably drive more interest (and more broadcast income) in the Scottish game.
However, it is also important that we recognise the large sums of money that can be earned by some of our clubs in July tournaments. Celtic, for example, have been invited to participate in the Dublin Super Cup, which takes place over the weekend of 30 and 31 July this summer. The Strategic Plan takes account of this. In future seasons, post-merger with the SFL, it may be possible to reconfigure the League Cup to create the sort of flexibility that would be required. At the moment however, such flexibility cannot be built into the fixturing of league matches.
As a one-off solution therefore, the SPL Board has decided on a compromise. The season will kick off on 23 July, but clubs will be able to request a postponement of one fixture early next season. This will achieve the early season start desired by the majority – but will also cater for the desire of some clubs to take part in other tournaments.
Fixturing is a notoriously emotive area. Trying to shoe-horn so many games into a fixed period is an extremely difficult task – and one where SPL Secretary Iain Blair is simply unable to please everyone all of the time. There is no ideal solution that suits all clubs. What’s vital is that any decision is fair, balanced and in the overall interests of all clubs. And I am confident that the decision on our start date for next season is precisely that.
It will help teams in European competition and is therefore good for the UEFA coefficient. It will reduce fixture congestion and the number of unpopular winter mid-week games later in the season. It will boost clubs' incomes and increase the value of SPL games to broadcasters. And it's what fans tell us they want.
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