Viewing Scottish Football: Why is it Such a Hassle?

Football games in Scotland are being made unnecessarily harder to view for no logical reason writes Angus McGregor.

Travelling Ross County fans will be one of many supports to go through unnecessarily hard ticketing plans to attend games this season. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)

Scottish league football is back for the 2022/23 season and in tremendous fashion, with over 130,000 fans attending games within the four professional divisions. Over 2% of the Scottish population attended games in the opening weekend of the season, with a sell-out at the Tony Macaroni Arena kicking off the new campaign.

This figure, rightfully, has been celebrated by the powers of the league but it does not paint the full picture when it comes to the Scottish football product and its accessibility. In fact, it covers up quite a grim truth with our game having a long way to go in improving how our game reaches an audience.

New seasons bring excitement, with fans eager to get down and see their new look sides in action with optimism for the season. One of these teams was last year’s surprise package Ross County, who have had a busy summer with a host of players both leaving and joining the club. The Staggies would be making the 123-mile trip down to Midlothian to face off against Hearts, a long trip for any away fans looking to take in the opening day clash.

However, those looking to do so were met with a completely unnecessary hurdle with it being announced on the Wednesday (27th) before the game (Saturday 30th), that tickets would not be available to purchase on the matchday. Combining this with the deadline for the pickup from the Global Energy Stadium being 1 pm, this left fans very little time to get tickets for this fixture and removed the possibility for anyone to decide to take the game in on the day. Tickets could be bought online but with no E-tickets, this option was mainly rendered useless, especially for those who live away from the area.

This meant that if you were a Ross County fan now based in the central belt, you would be looking to take the trip up North simply to collect the ticket as nothing had been made easier immediately by both parties. Luckily, a solution was eventually made but this required specific individual arrangements to be made to pick up tickets at Tynecastle. This is not the only example, though, with St Mirren’s away trip to Aberdeen this weekend having a very similar proceeding.

Before Covid, this never seemed to be much of a hassle, with pay-at-the-gate systems being regular all over the country. Businesses have adapted to contactless and online systems but it appears in Scottish football that a backwards step has been taken, with it being made more difficult for supporters to attend games. In terms of Ross County and other supporters, the inconvenience of arranging ways to get a ticket, never mind themselves, to a game may be off-putting, meaning both parties miss out.

For many clubs, pay-at-the-gate seems to be a thing of the past. (Photo by Mark Leech/Getty Images)

The pandemic also allowed for football fans to be able to catch their teams via streaming services, with this continuing into last season with games being easily accessible online. The services weren’t without problems at times but for the most part, worked well and were a very welcome addition to the league. It allowed supporters to continue to view games if they felt unsafe with the conditions following the pandemic, but also allowed supporters to catch the game if they were too busy to travel or so. For many, there were hopes this would continue into the new season.

However, this has not been the case with the SPFL deciding to not go ahead with streaming, without any real recognition of making this public knowledge. No reason has been offered publicly by the organisation as to why this decision has been taken but clubs can no longer broadcast games within the U.K. and Ireland. Perhaps this is due to the partnership with Sky Sports but this means that if your side does not have a home game against Celtic or Rangers, you’re not going to see them on television. Outside of the Edinburgh derby, the chances of seeing a game featuring neither Old Firm side are very slim, meaning fans will be missing out should they not be able to go to games. BBC Scotland has taken up games again on Friday nights within the Championship but this leaves Leagues 1 and 2 untouched and unable to stream.

The decision from those in charge makes no sense as a viable option that works has been used alongside the Sky deal, to great effect with Neil Doncaster claiming that audience figures continue to grow. The ability to stream put more eyes on the product and allowed fans to be more informed than ever before.

Doncaster has been raving about cutting down on illegal streams but there’s no point in doing so when no alternative is being offered. An Aberdeen fan now living away from the city and Celtic fans unable to get a ticket for the away game at Ross County will be unable to watch the game through legal ways, making what Doncaster is celebrating so strongly rather futile. Doncaster will, of course, go to bat for the league’s sponsor and protect their investment, but no reason is being offered for why so many fans will be missing out.

Simply put, football in this day and age should not be this hard to access. Adjustments can be made to make this much easier as the lengths some are having to go to are silly for a league setup like ours. The SPFL needs to do better in this aspect, with the criticism for the way things are being operated by themselves and clubs will not go away anytime soon.

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