When I began campaigning on the issue of football TV rights and our men’s national team being stuck behind a paywall, I wasn’t under any illusions it would result in a quick win.
Scottish football fans wanting to follow club and country have had to navigate and pay for an alphabet soup of broadcasters.
Sky, TNT (formerly BT Sports) and, until this week, Viaplay (formerly Premier Sports) snapped up nearly all the live rights, leaving fans counting the cost, at a time when the Tory cost of living crisis has households counting every penny.
But the withdrawal of Viaplay from the Scottish football scene this week has opened up a window of opportunity to reshape the short-term future of football broadcasting and hopefully build a path of potential for the longer-term.
My main focus has hitherto been the Scotland men’s national team, which has been behind a paywall for some years now, most recently with Viaplay. Any solution must ensure that the Women’s team continues to broadcast free-to-air.
I hosted a roundtable in April this year aimed at getting all the parties in a room to see what might be possible, and what wasn’t.
If we can get this right there is a chance that free to air coverage of Scottish international football can come back. But all must work together and show good will. https://t.co/l0tQKA1CAG
— Pete Wishart (@PeteWishart) July 20, 2023
I was delighted to welcome representatives from all the main broadcasters, the footballing authorities, and fans’ groups to talk frankly about the opportunities and challenges free-to-air coverage would mean.
What was clear from that meeting is that there is no simple solution to this conundrum.
On the one hand we all, as Scotland fans, want to see our team continue their phenomenal run of form on free TV and enjoy a collective experience, rather than one determined by how deep your pockets are.
On the other hand, no-one wants to see the funding that goes into our national game hit hard as a result.
As we’ve seen with licence fee funded Welsh language channel S4C’s coverage of Wales men’s national team games yn Gymraeg – recently extended to cover right up until 2028 – where there is a will, there can be a way.
If Welsh supporters can see their team play without paying a subscription, there’s no reason why their Scottish counterparts can’t enjoy the same.
The news that @ViaplaySportsUK are looking to exit the UK market, offloading their TV rights, including the Scotland men's team, will be a body blow to those losing jobs, but is an opportunity to reassess how our national teams are broadcast. 1/3
— Gavin Newlands MP 🏴🇺🇦 (@GavNewlandsSNP) July 20, 2023
Viaplay’s withdrawal from the Scottish market opens up the possibility for free to air broadcasters like the BBC and STV to take up the rights and get our boys in front of the largest audience possible as they make the journey to Euro 2024.
To that end I’ve written to the head of BBC Sport in London asking her to look urgently at acquiring Viaplay’s rights to get Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland games on free TV, in line with the England games currently broadcast on Channel 4.
Such a deal would be a showcase for public service broadcasting and the power of sport to bring Scotland together as a nation.
In the longer term, broadcasting remains under the heel of the UK Government, and whilst I continue to try to persuade them to at least meet to discuss the challenges, ultimately only independence will give Scotland the power to shape the future of football broadcasting in our country – and deliver for fans across our land.