Modern football and Scotland are forever tied together. If Scotland did not give birth to football as we know it, it certainly was the midwife that guided the sport during its early days.
Despite having two of the most historic clubs in Europe and producing a number of top flight managers, the game is in trouble in its ancestral home.
The reasons have been well covered and debated why the Scottish Premiership is not more widely watched and the quality of play in Scotland – both clubs and country – is not better.
What these debates hide, however, is how marketable the Scottish Premiership currently is from a number of different angles. For fans of history, the SPL has bucketloads with not just Rangers and Celtic but also with other clubs, such as Aberdeen and Hearts.
English language fans in growing soccer markets like the U.S. and Australia can easily follow commentary and analysis of the league. Fan culture at the stadiums make for great video viewing and some of the older fields have an atmosphere that makes even a mundane match worth a viewing.
Yet the league is very inaccessible, especially outside of the United Kingdom and Ireland. In the U.S., where soccer leagues are trying to grab viewership shares from the Premier League, watching a Scottish Premiership match is nearly impossible unless it features Celtic and Rangers.
The best legal way is to subscribe to Fox Soccer or have access to a streaming service that offers it, and even then, only a few matches a month are available. Subscribing to a team’s live streaming service can be hefty fee.
Technology has advanced in a way that a league can grab attention and support in different ways. Here are my four proposals from easiest to hardest from the SPL to improve its Q rating among soccer audiences.
Create league recap and analysis videos
If you go to the league’s YouTube page, you see a few types of videos. You see some individual match recaps but also videos of goals, wow moments, and fan reaction videos.
But you don’t see comprehensive recap videos of the weekend. What the league needs to create and disseminate is almost its own recap show.
Hire hosts and play these clips but in a comprehensive way that sums up the action from the last match day. These can be distributed on the league’s social media and web channels, but also marketed to media companies outside the U.K. to showcase the product.
It’s easier to follow the league and its teams (especially the non-Celtic, Aberdeen, and Rangers ones) with regular video updates. In 2017, brands make their own media attention; they don’t wait for media coverage
Stream one match every matchday on Twitter
Television rights get dicey, especially as your cross international borders. But in the States, professional leagues are slowly beginning to ignore their TV contracts and push out their matches on social media for free.
Twitter last year paid the National (American) Football League to broadcast thirteen matches for free on its app.
The idea was mutually beneficial to both parties – the league expanded its product to social media savvy viewers and cord cutters, while the social media company could expand its user base and potential ad sales.
Twitter and Sky Sports just last month had a deal where Twitter live-streamed its Deadline Day coverage in certain markets.
The Scottish Premiership should reach out to Twitter (or another social media company) and work out a deal to live stream one match every match in some markets where they can grow their viewership.
Create a playoff for one Europa League place
Currently, the top finisher in the Scottish Premiership receives a bid to the second round of the Champions League while the second and third place finishers receive Europa League bids.
Admittedly, Scottish Premiership sides have struggled in both competitions for years, so opening the bids to teams based on “luck” may not help. It would however make the league race more intriguing.
The proposal is this – the Europa League spot that now goes to the league third place finisher would be subject to a playoff between the third and fourth place finisher.
The higher team on the table would host and the match could take place on the Scottish Cup weekend if the participants do not overlap or the week before with the Cup final moved forward a week.
It would create a small bit of drama, but some drama nonetheless.
Play the Scottish Cup semifinals outside of Scotland
Purists and the Scottish Premiership would likely baulk but there would be some precedent here. Just last year it was leaked that a future Celtic-Dundee league match could be scheduled in Boston or Philadelphia.
The appeal there was having a match in a city with a larger Celtic fanbase, guaranteeing a good gate and financial return.
A match that does not feature Celtic or Rangers may not have the same draw in the U.S. or elsewhere, but the gamble may be worth it to see if the Scottish FA can slowly build a fanbase outside of Scotland, especially if the U.S. is only one possible destination (Toronto or Mexico City would be appealing cities).
One may think that the above ideas are merely pipe-dreams. But the truth is that the Scottish Premiership and Scottish football is playing on an uneven field, with the behemoth of the Premier League just south of the border.
That said, there are some selling points that Scottish football simply aren’t exploiting, and with a bit of ‘blue-sky’ thinking a change in fortunes could be a few steps away.