BBC and STV urged to purchase TV rights of Scotland games

EXCLUSIVE: BBC and STV urged to take on live coverage of Scotland football matches after Viaplay pulls out of UK, with Scottish sport left in turmoil

  • Viaplay’s announcement of a review has sent a tremor through Scottish sport
  • Fears of a TV blackout ahead of Scotland’s next Euro qualifier in September
  • Sky could bid to replace Viaplay as Scottish Cup broadcasters next summer 

BBC Scotland and STV were urged to ‘urgently explore’ the possibility of purchasing the rights to Scotland internationals from Viaplay after the troubled broadcaster announced plans to pull out of the UK.

The Nordic subscription channel expects to lose £75million in 2023. Announcing plans to pay off a quarter of its staff, Viaplay will also conduct a strategic review of its international markets, including the UK, in a quest to cut costs. 

Despite claiming it will still be ‘business as usual’, Viaplay’s announcement sent a tremor through Scottish sport.

As well as broadcasting the League Cup and Scottish Cup, the channel showed the United Rugby Championship, featuring Edinburgh and Glasgow last season. They also have a deal with UEFA to televise Scotland football international qualifiers until 2028.

Gavin Newlands, MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, has now written to BBC Scotland and STV asking them to step into the breach and prevent a blackout of Scotland’s push for the Euro 2024 finals. 

Fears of a TV blackout ahead of Scotland’s next Euro qualifier in September

Viaplay to conduct a strategic review of its international markets as it expects to lose £75m

‘Given the rumblings from the global Viaplay Group over the last couple of months, this news hasn’t come completely out of the blue,’ said Newlands. ‘But it is still a huge surprise and one which will have substantial implications for the national game.

‘My understanding is that Viaplay intend to sell off or sublicence their UK sports rights packages — including the deals to cover the League Cup, Scottish Cup, Scotland men’s team matches and UEFA qualifers from other nations — as part of their global restructuring exercise.

‘This presents an opportunity for Scottish broadcasters to work with Viaplay to bring men’s national team games back to free-to-air television, as well as ensuring both cups continue to be broadcast for fans without a paywall.

‘I’ve written to both BBC Scotland and STV today asking them to urgently explore the options that have been opened by today’s news, not least because clearly there is the real possibility of a TV blackout ahead of Scotland’s next Euro qualifier in September.’

On Thursday night, STV said they were willing to explore a joint venture to make more games free-to-air.

A spokesperson said: ‘Like our viewers, we’d love for more Scottish matches to be available free-to-air, including on STV where this can be achieved on a commercial basis. We continue to explore different ways of bringing more Scottish football to STV viewers, including the potential of sharing of rights with other broadcasters.’

Both the SFA and SPFL remain calm over the trading update from Viaplay. All payments from the broadcasters to the league are up to date and the SPFL anticipate that League Cup games will continue to be broadcast as scheduled — with live coverage of Motherwell versus Queen’s Park pencilled in for tomorrow.

Scottish football suffered a financial crisis when Irish broadcaster Setanta collapsed in 2009. Concerned fans who fear a repeat will think of cancelling their subscriptions, but last night a Viaplay statement sought to allay those concerns, while the broadcaster vowed to continue functioning as normal.

‘We have initiated a strategic review for our other international markets, including the UK, where we will seek optimal solutions for our operations, including partnerships,’ the statement read. ‘Until then it is business as usual.’

Viaplay entered the UK market as part of a major expansion of their broadcasting operation a year ago. Industry insiders expect the firm to honour its commitments while seeking a buyer for the British operation or joint-venture partners to sublicence live sports events.

Sky could also bid to replace Viaplay as Scottish Cup broadcasters next summer

Sky Sports were outbid by Viaplay for the rights to show Scotland games last year, and Mail Sport understands they could revisit the issue as Steve Clarke’s side close in on qualification for Euro 2024.

Sky could also bid to replace Viaplay as Scottish Cup broadcasters next summer, but are unlikely to be tempted by the rights to the League Cup.

Long-term advocates of major football games being free-to-air, the SNP and Green coalition have faced calls to use public money to buy Scotland games from UEFA and gift them to terrestrial broadcasters.

SNP MP Newlands hosted a roundtable discussion involving BBC Scotland, Sky, STV, Channel 4, Viaplay and the SFA in April — and hopes to find a solution which will allow Scotland internationals to be shown free-to-air in the same way as games involving England on Channel 4 and Wales on S4C.

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