MPs grill CEO
STV boss: ‘We can’t afford rights to Scotland games’
Simon Pitts: trying to be realistic
STV chief executive Simon Pitts has ruled out the prospect of the broadcaster being able to compete for live Scotland international football matches.
Mr Pitts told MPs that STV could not afford the sums now being paid and that rights are increasingly being acquired by Pay-TV giants such as Sky and Amazon.
Frustration over England matches being shown in Scotland, while Scotland’s games are reduced to highlights, was raised during a session of the Scottish Affairs Committee in the Commons.
A number of MPs asked Mr Pitts and his colleague Bobby Hain, managing director of the broadcast business, why STV has not screened crucial matches in the Euro or World Cup qualifiers and whether this would change.
“Sports rights, particularly football rights have become increasingly expensive and they are increasingly the preserve of pay-TV providers,” said Mr Pitts, adding that the size of the audience was key.
“The largest cheques are the ones that win the day and in recent times that has been the pay-TV providers, whether that is Amazon or BT Sports or Sky Sports. Realistically, I don’t see that changing unfortunately, unless the listed events rules are changed and more football matches are added.”
Mr Hain said 20 years ago STV was able to afford some matches, but even then it began to get outbid in multi-million pound deals.
“We share the frustration of the fans but it is the economics of how the rights have moved out of the reach of free-to-air broadcasters,” he said.
SNP MP Mhairi Black noted that the company had returned furlough payments received from the government during the pandemic and asked why therefore it could not afford to pay for football matches.
Mr Pitts explained that the numbers were not comparable and that returning £1.6m in furlough money would buy no more than one football match. Crucially, though, it was down to the audience size and the return on investment that broadcasters could expect.
“We can offer two million households, rather than the 20m in the rest of the UK that Sky can reach.”
Tory MP Andrew Bowie pointed out that when English tennis player Emma Raducanu reached the final of the US Open Channel Four did a deal with Amazon Prime to stream the match. He asked why STV could not do similar deals for football matches.
Mr Pitts said “those discussions have taken place in the past”, but for the Raducanu match Channel Four had given Amazon four hours of exposure with no adverts.
Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Tories, asked which games had been discussed and whether those discussions included last week’s crucial qualifier against Moldova.
Mr Pitts said he was referring to the qualifiers and euros and did not name a specific match.
“Our conversations on other crunch games, including the play-offs have not borne fruit,” he said.
“These rights are not owned by STV and they are not being auctioned.”
Mr Ross told Mr Pitts that “it sounds like you are are shutting the door”.
Mr Pitts replied: “We would love to share those games. It is precisely the crunch games you mention that give them [the rights owners] the return they seek.
“We will keep trying. We have a good relationship with Sky but we are just trying to be realistic.”