What is Neil Doncaster For?
Who could disagree with Barry Hearn yesterday describing Scottish football chiefs as ‘lazy, full of self-pity & with a defeatist attitude’?
In November 2011 it was announced that the Clydesdale Bank were ending their sponsorship of Scottish football, something they’d been committed to since 2007. At the time Doncaster announced: “Work now begins on seeking a new title sponsor for the foremost sporting competition in Scotland.”
Three years on and that work has no result. Scotland’s national game has no commercial deal. This isn’t some side-issue. It’s not some peripheral part of his job, this is his job.
Two years ago Doncaster received a pay rise from a whopping £172,000 to a massive £200,000. That rise came despite a six per cent FALL in income from £22.7million to £21.4m in a year when total payments to SPL clubs also decreased by £1.6m – a reduction of almost nine per cent. The filed accounts were for the year up to May 31 2012 and did not take into account Rangers’ drop out of the top league.
Who the hell gets a a £28,000 pay rise in a period of stark austerity when the industry your supposedly at the helm of is in total crisis?
If there’s a poster boy for ineptitude, lack of vision, failure of transparency and accountability in Scottish sport, Doncaster is it.
Hearn, speaking at the SFA put it simply in a crystal-clear voice that only an outsider could deliver:
“The fact the league doesn’t have a sponsor says everything you need to know”.
But Hearn’s broadside wasn’t confined to the sponsorship failure, adding:
“You’ve got to grow. You’ve got to be positive. You have been in the shadow of the English Premier League and you have almost given up. Your image is not good because it is a defeatist image, completely alien to what Gordon Strachan is preaching on the pitch. The blazers are not doing the job properly. It is very well looking at a beautiful petal but if the roots are damaged you don’t see a beautiful petal for much longer. You can’t sell your product if you talk your product down. Attendances are falling across Scottish football. You are not doing your job properly.”
It’s pretty simple stuff.
The SFA isn’t much better, but they have at least managed a bundle of sponsors and partners, though the inclusion of Macdonalds and Mars might embarrass a more forward-looking body, and might give us a clue to the early departure of Mark Wotte. How will we ever overcome the ‘Burgers and Buckfast’ culture when our national body think its appropriate for our youth sponsor to be Macdonalds?
Wotte you’ll recall was appointed by the parent body in 2011 to implement its “Performance Strategy”, which resulted from Henry McLeish’s much lauded Review of Scottish Football. But the SFA announced that the man hailed by chief executive Stewart Regan as “the key appointment that could turn around Scottish football” has now decided to “move on”.
Scottish football faces a series of critical questions:
Who is replacing Wotte and if his role and work plan was so pivotal, what is happening to it now?
Health and fitness is the bedrock of any sporting culture, setting a benchmark for young people to aspire to. Wotte’s departure and the abandonment of any clearly articulated strategy to replace his key work is the SFA’s equivalent failure to Doncaster’s inability to attract backing for the game. It’s about an abject lack of ambition or aspiration for the game by people who are underperforming and overpaid.
In a country brimming over with artistic talent, a booming games industry, food and drink entrepreneurs and new media technologies is it really beyond the ken of the SPFL to attract a sponsor?
What exactly is the deal struck with the BBC that seems to amount to endless one dimensional radio coverage, temporary available and badly shot video footage online and cheap and (uncheerful) tv highlights?
Where is the innovation that would reflect the new media culture? If old broadcast media can’t and won’t provide a decent service – the SPFL should be reaching out to new commercial media players like Virgin or BT or resurrecting the old SPL tv deal scuppered by the Old Firm all those years ago.
What is the strategy for attracting new audiences to football – besides – the recent brainwave to allow people to have a drink? This is no bad thing – but its hardly a feat of staggering imagination.
What is the strategy to assist clubs to keep the current fan base coming along to the game?
It’s clear that clubs can do their own thing, but surely a national body does more than run a website and Player of the Month awards?
Doncaster himself has said:
“Sponsorship itself only makes up around 20% of the income of the league historically, so it’s not quite as big a deal as some might say. Broadcasting makes up the vast majority of the rest, so to have the stable, long-term broadcasting partnerships in place, that underpins the bulk of our revenue.”
Neither is good enough and three years on there is a pathetic lack of urgency.
Good coverage, good media and strong sponsorship aren’t just important symbolically, and in terms of delivering some desperately needed finance, they’re about how we project the game to fans, parents, children, players and the world. Do we believe in our game? Are we investing in it? Do we value it? Do we have a plan to nurture and promote it? The answer to each of these questions seems to be: no, no, no and no.
From the cringeworthy creation of ‘the Championship’ to the utter utter farce of the “TV cash back deal” – in which Doncaster ‘negotiated’ to PAY £750,000 in cashback for costs in screening Rangers games in the lower divisions and to make up for shortfalls in viewer figures – to the singular failure to attract a penny in sponsorship for the ‘the foremost sporting competition in Scotland’, Doncaster has failed.
We deserve better leadership than this. He must go now.