Bigger clubs face day of minnows in Scottish Cup

SPL chief hails improved five-year TV agreement as vote of confidence in Scottish football

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The Independent Football

The Old Firm rivals were drawn together in the rehearsal, but only one all-SPL tie emerged between the 36 clubs involved when the draw for the Scottish Cup fourth round took place for real yesterday.

Inverness will host Dunfermline, while Hearts were drawn to play the junior side Auchinleck Talbot and their capital city rivals Hibernian face the tricky prospect of a trip across the Forth to the Second Division leaders Cowdenbeath. The holders Celtic will visit Peterhead while Rangers also face an away test on the east coast, with Second Division Arbroath hosting the SPL champions in ties played on the weekend of 7 and 8 January.

St Johnstone will host Brechin, Dundee United will travel to Airdrie, Kilmarnock will visit Dundee and St Mirren will play Hamilton, who were relegated from the top flight last term.

Aberdeen and Motherwell must wait until this weekend's replays are completed to discover their opponents. Aberdeen will face a trip to either Stranraer or Forfar, while Motherwell will host Elgin or Queen's Park.

The First Division leaders Ross County will play Stenhousemuir, Raith Rovers will meet Morton, Falkirk will take on East Fife and Livingston will play either Ayr or Montrose. The reward for junior side Culter should they win their replay with Partick is a fourth-round tie at home to Thistle's First Division rivals Queen of the South.

The SPL chief executive, Neil Doncaster, believes the league's latest television deal with Sky Sports and ESPN proves Scottish football is a product worth investing in, even in a difficult economic climate.

The SPL announced last night it had agreed "substantially improved terms" with the broadcasters in a deal which takes effect from the start of next season and runs until 2017. Doncaster declined to discuss the figures involved, but the new contract is understood to be worth £80m. The SPL had previously secured a £13m annual commitment from the broadcasters when it signed the initial contract in 2009.

Doncaster is pleased the new deal will offer some extra financial stability to the 12 top-flight clubs for the next five years. "It's the financial stability our clubs are crying out for," he said. "To have Sky and ESPN contracted for five years from 2012 gives our clubs the stability in a difficult economic climate and to plan for the future. It's a new five-year deal from 2012 to 2017. It's still the same 60 live games that ESPN and Sky show at present but it's substantially improved terms.

"I can't give the precise details as to what the deal is worth but there will be more money coming into the SPL as a result of the deal," he added. "It's greatly encouraging and it shows the real confidence that exists, that Sky and ESPN have in Scottish football. It's real testament to the work that our clubs are continuing to put in."

Doncaster also expects the announcement to boost the SPL's search for a new title sponsor, after confirming less than two weeks ago that Clydesdale Bank will end its current sponsorship at the end of the 2012-13 campaign.

"It's vital to have a robust broadcast partner announced before you start the search for a new title sponsor," he explained. "The timing is not of our choosing but the reality is, with Clydesdale Bank having made their decision, this puts us in a really good position to go to the market.

"It's only been a couple of days. The search starts now. To start the search on the back of a robust new contract with Sky and ESPN is the best possible way to do that."

Viewing figures have increased by 28 per cent over the course of the current contract and Jeroen Oerlemans, the vice-president and channel manager at ESPN Europe, Africa and Middle East, sees no reason why the popularity of Scottish football cannot continue.

"The SPL teams in general are very popular," he said. "It's the same with Celtic in the Europa League, there's a similar trend. There is no real reason why that should diminish.

"We think that the SPL is a fantastic property for us. The game in Scotland is becoming increasingly popular and ratings have gone up significantly. We are pleased to extend our deal with the SPL and really happy to continue providing a product for our Scottish brothers and sisters.

"We're not going to say anything on the figures involved but it reflects positively on the increased value of the game. Everyone was very pleased with what was on the table," Oerlemans added.