Supporters Direct Scotland Conference 2015

I had an eventful few days this weekend just past, on Friday my fridge freezer packed in and on Sunday I ran in my 10k race – nice early opportunity to plug that post right here.  Sandwiched in between I managed to fit in a football related experience on the Saturday of all days. 

Football….Saturday….It’ll never catch on.

The experience in question was the Supporters Direct Scotland Conference at Hampden Park, an event at which I was present as part of a group of researchers who have provided papers due for publication later this week; I’ll be sure to plug them in due course as well.

I found the event, unlike others I’ve attended, to be an extremely interesting and valuable day; the quality of the keynote speakers was top class with each providing fantastic insights into different facets of the Scottish game.  There were some frank and honest admissions about the state of the game in Scotland, advice was given on how to develop a supporter ‘buy-in’ at football clubs, and a series of lessons that could be learned from the NFL model were also shared.  The first of the afternoon workshops that I attended furthered the concept of supporter ‘buy-in’ and how to make a success of fan representation at board level.  The second workshop, more of an open forum debate, allowed fans the opportunity to discuss the issue of fixture rescheduling and the lack of notice given for rescheduled games.  Fans of Celtic, Hibs, Aberdeen, Dundee United, and Hearts, amongst others, all united in a call for a minimum of 6 week’s notice to be given before a fixture is rescheduled and for the SPFL to announce ‘high risk’ fixture at the start of the season to give fans proper warning of the potential of a fixture being rescheduled for TV.  Nothing too outlandish there in the fans ‘demands’.

However, for me, one of the most interesting things that I’ll take from the day was a willingness to talk about change and innovation in Scottish football to make it a more appealing proposition to fans and broadcasters alike.  It was refreshing to hear Darryl Broadfoot – Head of Communications at the SFA – talk of his frustrations of the constant talking down of our game.  “Yes”, he admitted “our league’s not as good as the Premiership in England, but we shouldn’t compare ourselves to them.”  He’s got a point.  So long as the English Premiership continues to receive obscene amounts of money in TV revenue each year, the SPFL Premiership will never be in a position to compete with it.  So why even try?  Why constantly compare ourselves to the favoured child that is the EPL?  That will only serve to put us down yet further and feed the Scottish psyche of doom and gloom.  Perversely, perhaps it is our unhappiness at the state of the game in Scotland that really makes us happy in that uniquely Scottish way of ours. Whatever it is, Darryl’s not happy with it and it was great to listen to him talk about the need to not only talk up our game – something we are terrible at – but also to consider innovative features or changes that would make it more appealing.  Something that appeared to be a recurring theme throughout the day as former SFL CEO David Longmuir was also keen to put forward some interesting ideas on the future of the game.

The innovations suggested included:

  • Having penalty shoot-outs before a cup tie so that in the event of a draw the winner has already been decided. Games would start at their regular time, say 7.45pm, with the penalty shoot-out at 7.15pm.  Finishing times for games would therefore not be affected or extended meaning that fans may be more likely to stay until the end.  Having the shoot-out pre-match may also remove some of the pressures from the penalty takers as the shoot-out result may ultimately not be relevant if the game is decided in the 90 or 120 minutes.  Furthermore, there may be more attacking emphasis during the game from the side that has lost the pre-match shoot-out as a draw would see them knocked out, potentially leading to a more attacking, open, and exciting game.
  • Introducing penalty shoot-outs to decide drawn league fixtures. A win in normal time would still be worth 3 points, a penalty shoot-out win 2 points, and a lost penalty shoot-out 1 point for the draw over the 90 minutes.  The thought here being that by guaranteeing a ‘winner’, either in the 90 minutes or via a penalty shoot-out, fans will be more likely to stay until the end of the game and therefore remain engaged for longer.  The ‘guaranteed winner’ aspect may also prove a hit with broadcasters.
  • Adopt an American draft style system where either the clubs with the best youth academies get first refusal on top young players from national academies in order to develop the players further in order to reach their potential or, the poorest teams from the previous season have first choice in order to improve their squads.

OK, so two these ideas involve penalty shoot-outs as ways of keeping or generating interest in the game and, yes, the conservative nature of the Scottish game means that none of the above suggestions are likely to receive universal support in the world of Scottish football for fear of change and ridicule but at least they are ideas that will get people talking about how we can ‘sex-up’ Scottish football.  We are masters at putting our game down and it may be that we need some radical thinking to shake it up and make it an attractive proposition once again.

Comments and thoughts on how to improve Scottish football are both welcome.

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