SNP makes free-to-air pledge for Scotland football games

The Scottish National Party has said the country’s government would pass a law to ensure Scotland’s competitive international football matches are ring-fenced for coverage on free-to-air television, if it held the legal powers over broadcast rights.

The rights to Scotland’s qualifiers for the Fifa World Cup and Uefa European Championship are currently held by pay-television broadcaster Sky under a deal that is set to expire in 2018.

However, the issue of free-to-air coverage has been raised again after Scotland’s latest game, Friday’s 3-0 defeat to England at Wembley, was shown by commercial broadcaster STV. This was only because of the English Football Association’s rights deal with STV’s sister channel ITV.

The UK Government has restated its refusal to legislate to ensure all Scotland's qualifying games, which are currently centrally marketed by European governing body Uefa, are broadcast on terrestrial television.

However, SNP cabinet secretary Fiona Hyslop pledged that if the powers were devolved to the Scottish Government it would pass a law so that all Scotland qualifiers were shown free-to-air.

She told Scottish newspaper The Herald: “We’ve repeatedly argued for Scotland games to be added to the list of sporting events that must be broadcast live on free-to-air television, the so-called ‘Crown Jewel’ events.

“We’ve not been alone in making this call, in fact an independent advisory panel on the list recommend the UK Government should do this seven years ago and it has still to be implemented by them.

“We want broadcasting powers to be devolved to Scotland, so Holyrood can have its say on what should be on the Crown Jewel list, and I have little doubt that if it was down to MSPs that Scotland games would be included.

“We’ve been making the case for wider change to broadcasting in Scotland through our work to influence the BBC Charter renewal. As part of this process, we have consulted a wide range of stakeholders, including sporting bodies, in order to shape and deliver an effective and inclusive broadcasting policy for the benefit of audiences across Scotland.”

In response to the call, the UK Government ruled out adding Scotland’s competitive matches to the ‘Crown Jewel’ list. A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson said: “We currently have no plans to review the list. Negotiations on television rights are a matter for the football authorities and broadcasters.”