Looking At The Gift-Horse
A group of Philanthropists allegedly want to rescue Scottish Football. Just how feasible is that?
James Anderson has been much discussed in Scottish Football coverage of late.
He is the 'philanthropist'-In-Chief who is apparently riding to the financial rescue of Scottish Men's Professional Football.
On the face of it, this is a source of much needed hope and optimism for those of us longing to see 42 football clubs able to contest the 2020/2021 season, whatever form that will ultimately take. Given that Anderson is one of several contributors to the financial stability of Hearts post administration in 2013, there is little reason to doubt his willingness to provide some aide to the wider professional side of the sport.
Several commentators have cast doubt on the prospect of this panning out as trailed, or even panning out at all, only to be met with derision and charges of needless cynicism.
And yet questions do need to be asked and in the absence of clarity there is always going to be doubt, scepticism, cynicism. So how are we doing on the clarity front?
How much money? No clarity.
How will the money be spent? No clarity.
How will the money be distributed? No clarity.
Okay. So not that great. Pretty appalling, really.
What do we know? Precious little. First off, James Anderson is an investor, who managed Baillie Gifford’s flagship investment trust, Scottish Mortgage. That, and his track record of recent donations to Heart of Midlothian, is about it.
Nonetheless, and unsurprisingly, there has been plenty of claims and suggestions and 'understandings' coming from the media.
4 people are estimated to be involved. A figure of £1-2 million has been bandied about. Or maybe it's £4.75 million. There are no strings attached and no conditionality on the donation. Except there might be a condition that it is for the 42 clubs, rather than for the SPFL board to use as they see fit. Or it might be that there's a condition that the money is just for the Lower leagues, aka Championship, League 1 and League 2.
Clear as the proverbial, then.
So, is this for real? Despite the cheer-leading, cork popping and Hosanna singing from some quarters and the dismissal, doom-mongering and conspiracy spinning from others, it really is too early to tell.
In normal circumstances, 84% of any money coming into the SPFL goes to the 12 Premiership clubs. That is laid down in the rules of the organisation, which underlines the lopsided nature of the Scottish game. Is it possible that the SPFL are duty bound to adhere to that when it comes to this particular cash injection? If so, then the 3 lower leagues will be left with £320,000 to assist them, assuming the £1-2 million figure is correct. Indeed, even if the figure is more generous, then the lower leagues, arguably most in need, will be left with meagre scraps whilst the Premiership pockets the lions share.
Granted, it's still money i'm sure they could do with, but in context it won't stretch all that far.
The Premiership has the advantage of the Sky broadcast deal to assist them with the cost of testing and the loss of income from playing behind closed doors. They will also be in receipt of 84% of any sponsorship deal, whenever the SPFL manages to secure one.
So what sort of assistance do the 30 clubs comprising the lower leagues need? What sorts of costs would they be looking at?
Again, this is largely unknown, but let's try and get ourselves in the ballpark. 30 clubs needing weekly tests at £2,500 per week, 36 fixtures in a league season in the Championship, League 1 and League 2. 36 weeks (not counting, then, any weeks spent on non league business, like cups) means roughly £90,000 costs for testing. Multiply that by all 30 clubs and you are looking at £2.7 million already. If we're talking about all 42 clubs, then that figure jumps to £3,780,000.
Granted, the clubs might not need to be testing all the way through the season, but for the moment we will need to work under the premise that the clubs need to test twice weekly to meet the safety standards imposed by the reality of Covid-19 and the cost has been put at around around £2,500 per week.
Paying for testing is one thing. It would not solve the problem of playing behind closed doors for at least 30 clubs that must contend without the safety net of Sky Sports millions or any other broadcast deal.
So what would it take to fund a club in the lower leagues? Peterhead chairmen Roger Morrison ballparked the cost of £20,000 a month for playing behind closed doors when he spoke to the Sportsound team on BBC Radio Scotland, Saturday 30th of May. That £20,000 figure is going to be lower or higher for many clubs, relative to their costs versus that of Peterhead, a team who finished sixth in League 1, but for the sake of argument we can work with it.
Multiply it by the 30 lower league clubs and you are looking at £600,000 per month. The season, unless much reduced, runs over roughly 9 months. That takes us to £5.4 Million.
Of course that's not going to be a bang on figure. That's not going to be exact.
But the guts of £8 million is a hell of a lot to expect to come from these benefactors, and that's just for the 3 lower leagues. BBC Scotland journalist Brian McLaughlin put the donation figure at £1-2 million and as touched upon earlier, that could be split between 42 clubs, rather than just the lower league 30. That could be mostly absorbed by the Premiership clubs, going by the standard procedure of the SPFL.
Perhaps, though, a whole season won't be necessary. Perhaps the lower leagues will just need help getting to January, before they can start opening up the turnstiles? In that case, we won't know if testing will be needed at all, but if it is then it will only be from January through to the end of the shortened season, so May, June or July depending on what sort of fixture total they work to.
If it is indeed January to May, presume testing is still needed, because a vaccine before summer 2021 is looking highly unlikely. 18 weeks instead of 36, still for 30 clubs and we are looking at £1, 350,000 on top of whatever the cost ends up being for playing in front of reduced crowds and with likely much, much reduced numbers in the hospitality sections. Not to mention the clubs will likely need financial support from August until January. Roughly speaking, that is going to be £2.4 Million (using that £20,000 figure again), unless the clubs are expected to mothball until January yet still manage to gather squads and field teams from January through to the end of the season.
You're still talking a likely figure of around £3-4 million. For the lower leagues alone. If they play a bisected season. That figure outstrips the £1-2 million figure mentioned on Sportsound by the journalist who's interview with Ann Budge kicked off this latest round of Scottish Football faff and we won't get anywhere near it if the top of the SPFL Pile do what they are so accustomed to doing and swallow up almost all of it.
If we are looking at £4.75 million, as suggested in some newspaper gossip columns today, then you're getting closer to the figure that would be needed for the lower leagues but again that is 30 clubs, not 42.
We shall, as ever, see.
For now, temper that optimism with caution and consider the size of donation that would be needed to 'save' the game in the way that much of the media is touting.