Is the SPL taking a gamble ?
Watching Match of the Day a few weeks ago, I couldn`t help noticing the number of clubs who are sponsored by betting companies like Mansion, Betfair and Bet365. A quick look at a few team websites (including Hearts) reveals heavy advertising by what the clubs call "betting partners". So it shouldn`t have been a surprise a few days later when the SPL announced Lex Gold`s successor as Chairman would be Ralph Topping - chief executive of the William Hill organisation.
Normally such an official appointment wouldn`t merit a mention by fans - but this one just looks odd. A bookie in charge of our top league ? What on earth is going on ? Never mind the possibility of future match-fixing rumours - but what does the appointment of the William Hill chief executive say about our game ? In my opinion, it smacks of desperation - an admission that the game has now sold its soul to the gambling industry in the pursuit of extra income which is not strictly "earned" by the football itself. And what would this extra money be spent on ? Most likely on more average foreign journeymen - or at best, on guys like Willo Flood or Andrius Velicka to warm the benches of the Old Firm.
It could be argued that a director of a huge operation like William Hill will bring great experience of how a partnership between sport, gambling and the media can benefit everyone, citing English football as an example. However most EPL clubs have enormous debts, financed by wealthy foreign owners - so the idea that the betting industry has improved the wellbeing of clubs is far from obvious. Some racecourses in England now exist mainly to satisfy the demand from the betting industry, rather than as a local arena where people can enjoy the wider horse-racing experience. Gambling seems to be the only growth industry in the current economic climate. Their adverts are everywhere, proclaiming everything from online bingo to TV channels showing roulette games.
How much longer will SPL fans continue to pay £20 + to watch players who often can`t control a ball or make a 10 yard pass to a team-mate ? Yet as far as the betting companies are concerned, quality probably doesn`t matter, just so long as things happen that can be bet on - a goal, first scorer, half-time score, full-time score - that`s all that counts. Having already embraced the "hospitality" market who generally don`t have an affection for the teams on show, football is now wooing another group who care even less for the well-being of any teams. If football were to lose its appeal, there`s plenty other sporting opportunities around the world for them to promote.
The spiral of short-term football madness seems to go like this - "We need more money to finance the debt, and buy a star player who is demanding more money than we can afford. Easy solution - let`s grab that TV and sponsorship money right now, and lets put the prices up too. Right - now we`ve spent the money and borrowed even more … we need more money to finance an even bigger debt, and compensate for the fans we`ve lost due to the TV and high prices, and buy another star player to replace the last one who wasn`t quite as good as we thought."
And so on, and so on.
Soon, some of our SPL teams may find that only a few thousand of their fans can be bothered to turn up, while thousands of others stay at home claiming to be supporters simply because they subscribe to Sky and use their red button to bet on the half-time score between Clyde and Brechin.
And as if all that wasn't depressing enough, Mr Topping is apparently a Hibee ....