Football: Scottish sponsors decide to pull out

Bell's, the sponsors of the Scottish League, will not renew their agreement when it expires at the end of the season.

Ken Gaunt says the news leaves the game north of the border in disarray.

Scotland's Premier Division clubs are hopeful there will be a positive outcome from talks with the Scottish League management committee today in the wake of the announcement by Bell's yesterday that the firm will not be renewing their sponsorship of the domestic league at the end of the season.

Scotland's top 10 clubs are planning to break away from the league and will outline their proposals at Hampden Park.

However, there is widespread anxiety about funding among the 30 clubs outside the top flight after the decision by Bell's to pull out.

The Hibernian chairman, Lex Gold, spokesman for the Premier Division clubs, tried to allay their fears yesterday. "Wednesday's meeting presents a real opportunity to end the current uncertainty and we expect to answer any outstanding queries," he said.

"We are keen to take forward our proposals, which will benefit Scottish football as a whole, in a spirit of co-operation and have the new arrangements in place for the start of next season.

"It is clear that the status quo will continue to see a decline in the standards of the game in Scotland. Our plans have been developed to ensure that additional revenue comes in to benefit the game."

Gold added: "We have deliberately not approached potential sponsors while we are involved in discussions with other clubs, but we have already received unsolicited inquiries from two organisations. They are excited about the possibilities our proposals present and are keen to discuss potential sponsorship.

"One of those made it clear that they are examining the possibility of sponsoring not only the Scottish Premiership but also those divisions which continue to be run by the Scottish League. The initial sums mentioned are of a significant nature, underlining our commitment to bring more money into Scottish football."

Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Ross County have been with Bell's all the way after joining the league in 1994.

The Inverness secretary, Jim Falconer, said: "We are disappointed Bell's are withdrawing their support as they have been good supporters of this club and helped our progress. But I suppose their stance is understandable, considering all this talk of a breakaway league.

"The Premier Division clubs have already indicated they have a potential sponsor and that money will filter through the leagues. Obviously we hope this comes to fruition."

Ewen Cameron, secretary of Alloa, is urging the breakaway group to confirm their sponsor as a matter of urgency and said: "The fact that Bell's are withdrawing their support at the end of the season is a matter of great concern. We have heard talk that the Premier Division clubs have a potential sponsor but it is all a bit vague.

"We all have budgets to meet and need to work on them at the turn of the year. It is not a job that can be left to the last week of the season."

Andy Neal, consumer marketing director of United Distillers UK, the parent company of Bell's, admitted they had withdrawn their support because of the uncertainty surrounding Scottish football.

"The company had been close to agreeing a way ahead for the sponsorship with league secretary Peter Donald," he said. "But the announcement and follow-up news conferences, with regard to the proposed breakaway, have left it unclear exactly what we would be sponsoring.

"Major organisations such as our own with clear long-term strategies and plans cannot, and will not, commit millions of pounds to projects which do not have similar consistency in direction. As United Distillers is finalising its five-year investment plans now, we cannot commit to Scottish football when its future is so unclear."

Neal added: "Our views on the future of the game were sought as part of the Deloitte Touche report but no discussions have taken place. United Distillers, like the Scottish League, only learned of their intentions at the September 9 news conference. They have not outlined their proposals to us or discussed potential sponsorship. We would have expected a call. We would have done it differently."