Scottish Professional Football League Drafts New Post-Merger Rules

In June of this year, the ailing state of the Scottish football was given a boost with the announcement that the Scottish Premier League and the Scottish Football League were merging to create a single entity, the Scottish Professional Football League (the “SPFL”).  The league structure is substantially similar to the previous iteration of Scottish football, with twelve teams in the top flight and three lower divisions with ten teams each.

The merger of the two leagues also led to the drafting of new rules for the SPFL.  The nearly 200-page Rules of the Scottish Professional Football League (the “Rules”) addresses the basics—including promotion and relegation within the SPFL, the naming of cups and competitions, and criteria for membership in the SPFL—as well as broader administrative and governance points.

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Among the more newsworthy of these administrative items are the provisions relating to SPFL member insolvency.  As discussed in more detail elsewhere, the insolvency provisions of the Rules provide that a team will be assessed a 15-point deduction in the team’s respective table the first time it experiences an insolvency event (including entering into administration) and a 25-point deduction if the team experiences a second insolvency event within a 5-year period. The well-publicized recent financial struggles of Rangers, Hearts of Midlothian, and Dumfermline draw most readers’ attention to the insolvency provisions, but other provisions may prove to have an equally meaningful impact on teams and the league as it embarks on its first year as a merged entity.

First, the Rules provide for  robust financial regulations on SPFL clubs.  Among the financial regulations are prohibitions on registering new players if clubs fail to pay players or managers and coaches; strict requirements to remit payment to HM Revenue & Customs (the “HMRC”) (the United Kingdom’s customs and tax department) and otherwise comply with HMRC rules; and permit the SPFL to inspect each club’s detailed financial records to ensure compliance with the Rules, Scottish Football Association rules, and other international requirements.

Second, and similar to the Barclay’s Premier League Elite Player Performance Plan, the Rules outline development compensation in the form of a “Development Contribution.”  That is, subject to certain conditions, if a player is registered to a club on or prior to his 23rd birthday, the club is entitled to payment of a Development Contribution for youth development if the player was registered or associated with that club during the period from the first day of the year in which the player turned 11 years old to the last day of the year in which the player turned 19 years old.

Third, although the Rules touch on corruption issues (e.g., banning illegal payments to referees or assistant referees (Rule G69) or attempting to improperly influence the results of matches (Rule G55)), unlike financial regulations or parameters for stadiums, the Rules only incidentally address corruption without devoting a full section to the subject matter.  UEFA rules adequately address processes for investigating and punishing match-fixing and other corrupt practices, but it seems curious that the Rules do not address those and all other corruption-related matters in a comprehensive, separate section.

In short, the Rules do not offer too many surprises.  Given the insolvency provisions and miscellaneous corruption-related rules, one could question whether the SPFL took full advantage of the opportunity to take a stance on the issues and set new, high standards for club and player performance off the pitch.  The drafters’ failure to do so may not have an immediate impact on the state of Scottish football, but it appears that the SPFL missed an opportunity to more clearly pave the way for financial prudence and the integrity of the league.

Reporting on the business side of the world's game.