LONDON: UEFA’s ultimatum to national leagues that a failure to complete the football season could lead to exclusion from European competition has left the continent’s less wealthy leagues, like Scotland, in limbo.
Scottish clubs were due to meet by video-conference on Friday with the possibility of following the Belgian league’s recommendation to call their season to an end amid the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
That meeting has now been pushed back to next week as Scottish clubs scramble just to survive in the months to come with matches indefinitely suspended on public health grounds.
Meager television rights deals, in particular in comparison to the English Premier League across the border, have seen Scotland slide down the food chain of European football.
The existing broadcast contract for the Scottish Premiership is reportedly worth a total of just £21 million ($22.7 million) annually.
Clubs can therefore little afford to miss out on European competition, with even those who do not participate eligible for solidarity payments from UEFA.
“Since participation in UEFA club competitions is determined by the sporting result achieved at the end of a full domestic competition, a premature termination would cast doubts about the fulfillment of such condition,” UEFA said in a joint letter with the European Clubs Association and European Leagues.
Many Scottish clubs had been keen for the season to be called as it stands — with Celtic crowned champions — so that prize money could be handed out to solve a cash-flow crisis.
A proposal for league reconstruction whereby two teams are promoted and no side relegated from the top four leagues would also mitigate the damage and any potential legal challenges.
Instead, as so often, Scottish clubs have had to turn to their fanbases for support.
According to UEFA’s latest Club Licensing Benchmark report, gate receipts provide 43 percent of revenue for the 12 clubs in the Scottish Premiership, by far the highest in Europe’s top 20 leagues.
The inability to play games and get people through the gate has already resulted in Hearts asking players to take a 50 percent pay cut and members of the Hibernian squad deferring up to half their salary.
Wage deferrals are also on the horizon at Aberdeen, while even Celtic, who had 33 million pounds cash in the bank in their latest financial figures in February, are mulling wage cuts according to manager Neil Lennon.
Despite the fate of this season hanging in the balance, clubs are looking ahead with season tickets for the 2020/21 campaign a means to a short-term cash injection.
“I’ve been heartened by the messages of support I have received from fans asking what they can do to help the club through this really difficult period,” said Aberdeen chairman Dave Cormack.
Season ticket sales are not the only reason why the smaller leagues in Europe are more keen to turn the page on the 2019/20 season.
With just 10 percent of income for Scottish clubs coming from the television deal that is due to expire at the end of this season, the big penalty clauses faced by Europe’s top five leagues with broadcasters for failing to fullfil fixtures are not as severe.
Ajax sporting director Marc Overmars criticized the Dutch FA for “hiding behind UEFA” and not being brave enough to call their season to a halt.
“We in the Netherlands are not as dependent on television rights incomes as the leagues in Spain, England, Italy and Germany are,” Overmars told De Telegraaf.
“I think that they had been put under big pressure by UEFA to continue playing at whatever cost.”
The issue is further complicated in Scotland with a new, more lucrative, TV deal — worth a reported 32 million pounds annually — set to start next season meaning clubs do not want to sacrifice a late start to the 2020/21 campaign for finishing this season.
“Given the timescales involved, with every day that passes I think it becomes more unrealistic,” Motherwell chief executive Alan Burrows told the BBC on the prospect of finishing the season.