Former City chief executive Neil Doncaster this afternoon stepped straight out of the fire and into the frying pan after becoming the new chief executive of the embattled Scottish Premier League.
For whilst the age-old threat of a Rangers-Celtic breakaway might – for now – be on hold, the 39-year-old football high-flier steps into a role that looks designed to test the very best of men – particularly after the recent collapse of the Irish pay-per-view broadcaster Setanta.
It left the 12-club SPL faced with the prospect of financial meltdown. And with many a club already struggling to make ends meet – be it north or south of the border – so Doncaster will have his hands full from day one.
He has, for example, a five-year TV deal to sign off with Sky-ESPN; with the pair having the playing field to themselves, reports today were suggesting that they were looking to screw the SPL out of some ?40 million they were originally due under the now defunct deal with the collapsed Setanta.
The SPL's sponsors – the Clydesdale Bank – will also be seeking swift assurance that the level of their exposure remains intact; should they get cold feet and pull the plug, it could put another large cat among the pigeons.
“We have been engaged in a detailed recruitment process for some time now,” said the SPL's executive chairman Lex Gold, who at the age of 68 is looking to step out of the firing line and saw an ideal and younger candidate in the ex-Canary chief.
“Neil was the unanimous choice of those involved in the process. He has had excellent experience in club football with Norwich City and with his involvement with the FA and the Football League.
“That experience will hold him in good stead to lead the SPL team and deal with the challenges that lie ahead.”
Doncaster has, in common with every other Football League executive and director, already been through the TV rights mill once before when the collapse of ITV Digital left a similarly gaping hole in the finances of the League's 72 member clubs.
Then, however, the banks tended to be in a rather more accommodating mood. Come 2009 and what little good will there once was towards football as an industry has all-but evaporated. Doncaster's original legal background could come to serve him well in the bloody battles ahead.
“I've worked in football for 15 years and I am excited about now playing a part in developing the Scottish game,” he said this afternoon, as his spell out of the professional game proved short-lived – it is little more than two months since the Canaries dispensed with his services on the back of relegation to League One.
There was, however, very little doubt that another opportunity would present itself in what remains a small and highly-connected industry. That said, Scottish football remains a brutal and unforgiving beast. The Press aren't exactly pussy cats either as Doncaster's own mentor at Carrow Road – former chief executive Gordon Bennett – discovered in his own, ill-fated spell as chief executive at Aberdeen.
“The SPL already has excellent standing in European football, but like all football organisations it faces many complex issues and challenges,” said Doncaster this afternoon.
“I am looking forward to working hard with the Board, our member clubs, our partners and the SPL staff to continue to improve our competition and push Scottish football forward.”
The collapse of Setanta actually found the SPL paying a reported ?3 million out to its 12 members in lieu of a missed payment by the bust Irish broadcaster – not an easy task when the last set of accounts to 31 May 2008 show a deficit of ?181,000.
The SPL is, in short, not exactly awash with cash – which might make his experience at the helm of the cash-strapped Canaries invaluable.
As for the ESPN-Sky 'rescue act', the Daily Record was claiming this week that the SPL could find itself some ?40 million light.
The two were expected to bid against eachother for the live TV rights. According to the paper, the two have instead thrown their hands in together and offered the league a 'take-it-or-leave-it' deal. In their favour.
A new four-year deal worth ?125 million with Setanta was due to kick in August. The Record claim that the joint ESPN-Sky bid is on the table at under ?100 million; it will at least guarantee the league a TV rights holder through to 2014.
Which should, in turn, be enough to keep Clydesdale Bank on board whose ?2 million a year sponsorship deal is also a key component of the SPL finances.
The Scotsman newspaper quoted a lawyer 'familiar to the situation' as warning that without certain broadcast guarantees in place, Clydesdale could follow Setanta out of the door.
“I would normally expect there to be a number of highly specific performance clauses in regard to broadcast coverage in the contract between the title sponsor and the rights holder with provisions for material breach and other remedies to deal with other scenarios,” said the lawyer.
He added: “Failure by the rights holder to deliver their contractual obligations on mainstream media might be viewed as material breach and remedies could include stopping stage payments and even claw-back provisions.”
Welcome to your new world, Neil…
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