The Scottish Professional Football League has not made final payments to clubs for the curtailed 2019-20 season, weeks after teams expected to receive them.
The fees are typically paid in October but remain outstanding with the SPFL’s external auditors understood to be focusing on how an agreement with Sky Sports relating to unfulfilled fixtures is treated in the annual accounts. The league says it hopes to pay the clubs by the end of the year.
Asked when all 42 members will receive their money – believed to be about £1m in total and six-figure sums in some Premiership cases – a league spokesman said: “Our accounts would normally require to be filed by the end of February 2021 but due to Covid that has been extended to May 2021. However, we expect them to be finalised, lodged with the registrar of companies and published by the end of December 2020. Only once the accounts have been signed off will we be able to calculate the final fee payments due to each of the 42 clubs for the use of their intellectual property and other rights during season 2019-20.”
The SPFL agreed with Sky to return about £1.5m for fixtures that could not be broadcast after the 2019-20 season was halted in March. A new, enhanced deal with the broadcaster began on 1 August when the 2020-21 campaign started. The SPFL has previously told members that the £1.5m clawback would be deducted pro rata from the new, five-year Sky contract.
If the auditors are unhappy with that arrangement the SPFL may have to pay £1.5m to Sky more immediately and that could affect the plans to distribute money to clubs. Johnston Carmichael, the league’s auditor, has been approached for comment regarding its position and the Sky arrangements.
Pressed on whether the audit could result in clubs having a liability to the league, the SPFL spokesman said: “A variety of issues are still being finalised and will be clarified in the accounts, which are expected to be completed by the end of the calendar year.” In the previous two years, the SPFL accounts were published at companies house by mid-November.
The SPFL’s articles of association state: “The whole of the net commercial revenues referable to any one season shall be paid as fee payments to the clubs participating in the league.”
Aside from the current need clubs have for cash, this situation has potentially wider ramifications. It is unclear, for example, whether clubs were made fully aware of a delay to – or potential change in – their closing 2019-20 payment when voting for curtailment of the season. The SPFL board was vehement at that point that closing the season and determining final league placings was the only means by which to distribute crucial revenue.
In a letter to Nicola Sturgeon, the SPFL chief executive, Neil Doncaster, this week warned: “Scottish football is on its knees and clubs big and small the length and breadth of the country are in the most dire straits.” The SPFL is seeking to accelerate the return of fans to stadiums. Doncaster added: “Failure to get fans back in the very near future will sound the death knell for some of our best loved clubs.”
Sturgeon has swatted aside the SPFL’s latest protestations. “However much Neil Doncaster, for reasons I understand, is only looking at football, we can’t see any sector or any part of society in isolation because there is only so much we can do overall to keep the virus under control,” the first minister said.