UK pay-television broadcaster Sky has reached an agreement with the Scottish Professional Football League over compensation for the truncated 2019-20 season and has also given its backing to clubs to live-stream their home matches to fans when the 2020-21 season begins.
Sky’s exclusive live rights contract kicks in next season and, having fulfilled its final rights payment for the 2019-20 season, the broadcaster has been engaged in talks with the SPFL over money to be returned.
Following the suspension caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2019-20 Scottish Premiership season was declared over on May 18 with eight full matchweeks still to be completed.
Sky and the SPFL have now reached a settlement widely reported to entail £1.5m (€1.68m/$1.89m) being paid back to the broadcaster over five years.
The SPFL and Sky announced today (Wednesday) that they have “agreed to spread the financial settlement for the games unable to be completed in season 2019-20 across the term of the new five-year contract, providing security and financial stability to the competition and its clubs”.
Sky’s new five-year contract from 2020-21 to 2024-25 is worth around £26m per season and includes live rights to 48 matches per season. Pay-television rival BT Sport also held live SPFL rights from 2017-18 to 2019-20 but was comfortably defeated by Sky during the rights auction held in late 2018.
SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster said that the repayment agreement struck “means that any liability for games not delivered during season 2019-20 has now been settled, on terms that reflect Sky’s status as a committed partner and supporter of Scottish football”.
The live-streaming agreement announced today will allow fans to watch matches that would not otherwise have been broadcast live on UK television. According to the latest estimates, SPFL clubs are not expecting to be able to welcome full crowds back until the start of next year.
Scottish Premiership clubs are to live stream their home matches on their own websites and online TV channels, offering a ‘virtual season ticket’ for the 2020-21 season. Several Scottish Premiership clubs, including leading sides Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen, already provide live streaming of their home matches to viewers outside the UK and Ireland on a subscription or pay-per-view basis.
Rangers have said that fans who buy season tickets for the 2020-21 campaign will be given free access to the live streaming. Aberdeen said that it would “offer virtual access to season-ticket holders for all closed-door home games and will continue to work with our colleagues at fellow Premiership clubs to explore potential arrangements to show away games”.
Doncaster stated: “This is an innovative and pragmatic solution to the challenges posed by Covid-19 and I’m grateful for the flexibility shown by our clubs and by Sky Sports.”
Rob Webster, managing director of Sky Sports, said: “Sky Sports is proud of our long-standing relationship with Scottish football and we have been committed to finding a positive solution for the SPFL and clubs. The virtual season ticket for the 2020-21 season is an innovative way to maintain the connection with fans and provide economic stability for the clubs, and we are very happy to support it.”
In preparation for behind-closed-doors matches, the English and Scottish FAs last month lifted their bans on the televisual broadcast of Saturday 3pm football fixtures for the remainder of the season. The ruling, which has been enforced in the England and Scotland since the 1950s, forbids live broadcasts of domestic or foreign matches between 2:45pm and 5:15pm on Saturdays as a measure to protect attendances at domestic matches.
No Scottish Premiership matches are currently shown live on free-to-air television. There are highlights broadcast by BBC Scotland, an arm of the UK public-service broadcaster. Delayed coverage of one fixture per match is available on BBC Alba, the Gaelic-language channel.