Excluding Rangers from the Scottish Premier League is a Mistake

On Wednesday, July 4, the Scottish Premier League announced that its member teams had “voted overwhelmingly” to exclude Rangers from playing in the top-tier league this upcoming season. The Glasgow club must now apply with the Scottish Football League to enter one of the lower divisions for 2012-2013.

The large majority of clubs that voted against Rangers include St. Johnstone, St. Mirren, Hearts, and Aberdeen. Most of them made this decision based on principle because Rangers nearly destroyed itself financially. Since the team had to be re-established as a new company, it’s fair to expect Rangers to work their way back up the ladder. That’s always been the rule, and the other clubs are following that rule.

However, while I respect the principle that the clubs are standing by, I believe they are making a mistake. Rangers have one of the largest fan bases in all of Scotland. Teams that normally struggle with their attendance are guaranteed a sellout or near-sellout whenever Rangers comes to town. Now SPL clubs will miss those games and the revenue they bring in.

Furthermore, Rangers’ absence from the SPL will hurt another valuable revenue stream: its television money. SFL chief executive David Longmuir recently noted that Rangers’ absence from the SPL will cost Scottish game $25 million in TV revenue.

It would also hurt the SPL abroad. Without Rangers in the league, most international broadcasters would have little reason to television SPL matches. This includes Fox Soccer, which holds the United States’ rights to the league. Though I’ve never seen Fox Soccer back off a good deal, it appears unlikely that the network will pay much money to televise the SPL in America. That’s a shame because both Celtic and Rangers have large fan bases here.

Without Rangers playing first-tier soccer in Scotland, the game there will suffer. Celtic will be the only title contender, and without competition to drive that club, one has to believe that it will suffer eventually. Scottish football has long benefitted from the “Old Firm” rivalry between Celtic and Rangers, which has been the centerpiece of the game there for decades. Without those two clubs competing against each other, the SPL’s future is the bleakest that it has ever been.

I understand that Rangers was financially irresponsible. They deserved to be punished, and they have been. But I love the SPL and believe that it can become one of the best leagues in the world with the right investment. Instead, the SPL has chosen to hamstring itself for the future.

Derek Ciapala has followed Rangers and the SPL since childhood. You can follow him on Twitter @dciapala or Facebook.