One of the stories that almost got past me last week was the one about the TV numbers for the first Celtic – Sevco game of the season.
Apparently they are broadly in line with a trend that started during the last campaign; there has been a steady, noticeable, decline in the numbers.
In short, neutrals are switching off in droves.
And so it begins, the downward spiral of this “Old Firm” nonsense.
It was always going to happen, but it has happened way earlier than I would have expected.
I am glad for it. So are those who run the club.
Celtic is a stand-alone club.
We’ve made that clear a hundred times in a hundred different ways. Our business plan is not dependent on what anybody else does, and we see no value in teaming up with a tainted brand robbed from the grave of a liquidated tax dodging institution.
In fact, what some people in the media conveniently ignore is that we had been going it alone for a while before Rangers fell into that gaping hole; one of the first manifestations of it was when we refused to get involved in any kind of joint shirt sponsorship deal after Tennants.
For years, although few on the other side of Glasgow will admit it, we actually saw our commercial potential shrink as a result of that association. They, on the other hand, saw theirs boosted. This is not difficult to comprehend; Celtic seeks to be a global club. We are all embracing. We do not limit ourselves to a “core audience” but look beyond our traditional fan-base and even beyond these shores. This is not only emotionally enriching; it is bloody good business.
Because we were forward thinking and welcoming, we had a marketability and a potential earnings ceiling far greater than the club on the other side of the city, with its embrace of Britishness, militarism, monarchy and all the assorted baggage of Ulster Loyalism and uber-Protestantism which no sane organisation in the modern world would ever want.
Celtic knew our potential was greater. Rangers did too.
In order not to get left behind, they clung as tightly as they could to the Old Firm brand.
The marketing of the rivalry, the way it was described as “the most intense in world football” made their club seem larger than what it was. At the same time, it reduced us, by tying us to their coat tails and promoting us through the prism of West of Scotland hatred.
That would have eventually proved toxic.
So we were already, decisively, moving in a different direction, away from that tag.
Then the death of Rangers erased it forever.
For four years we were able to more clearly forge a forward path without that shadow hanging over us. We started laying the foundations for an ever more modern looking club, we crafted our separate ethos into something even clearer than it had been before. We knew there were commercial advantages to that, and we knew too that when Sevco reached the SPL it would translate into a gap on the pitch which would prove impossible to bridge.
The media has done its level best to try to keep the “rivalry” alive.
They have failed, because most neutrals have ceased to see it as one based on merit.
Scottish clubs might still cower when they walk out of the Ibrox tunnel in front of the Peepul, but outside of the SPL bubble most people see that history or not, Sevco is a pale shadow of what Rangers was and are wholly unable to compete with the well-oiled machine at Celtic Park.
There are people at Celtic who are absolutely cold-blooded about this.
They are more than aware that the diffusion of all the hype around these fixtures will hurt one club and help the other.
They know the “Old Firm” only ever propped up the Ibrox operation.
The wilful decision to cut that chord, to never use the term, to do nothing to promote it except that which is necessary for every match in the SPL, was taken in the full knowledge that it would have consequences for the club across town, negative consequences.
And those consequences are starting to take hold.
The TV audience switch-off is the first manifestation of that.
Others will follow.
Judged on their own merits, there’s not much to sell over there.
Robbed of their “Old Firm” branding they are just another West of Scotland football team, but one that has taken some truly bizarre marketing decisions in order to survive. The most obvious of these is an embrace of a dead team and all its assorted baggage.
The rivalry is over with, because Celtic’s success, and the gap between the clubs, has rendered it irrelevant.
The knock-on effects of it for Sevco are that they can no longer trade on the idea of being “one half” of this greater whole.
The knock-on effects for us are that we are freeing ourselves, bit by bit, from the last chains that hold down our economic potential, which was forever eroded by our association with a rivalry that often produced ghastly headlines and appalling social effects.
Celtic was recently granted planning permission for its hotel and museum project; the first major phase of The Celtic Village.
One of the difficulties we encountered, as Peter Lawwell made plain, was the reluctance of some in our political class to be seen to “benefit one half over the other.”
This was nonsense, as our CEO pointed out. He rightly told them, and the media, although the message was somewhat lost in translation to them, that it was time people moved past such an insular view and started judging our club on its own merits.
“If you have Celtic who are progressive, say, and (Sevco), who over the last five years, have been trying to re-establish themselves, we have been looking forward and they have been looking at today and tomorrow and trying to keep going,” he said, making it clear that there were not only operational differences but major ones in outlook and vision. “The difficulty for the politicians is to recognise that Celtic is progressive and to help us along the way because someone is going to say: ‘Well, you are doing that for Celtic. What are you going to do for them?’”
Lawwell has probably had that same conversation a hundred times with a hundred different organisations over the years. He knows what the value is in shattering the Survival Lie and with it the ancient rivalry that breeds such a ridiculous mind-set.
I daresay he’s pretty pleased that the TV numbers have dropped like this.
Oh there might be some effect on the next television deal if this trend continues, as I expect, but Celtic earns so little from those deals anyway that it’s become a joke. He also knows the future is in digital broadcasting, and that has to be something the club is looking to do more of.
The big picture will ever be on his mind, and the gains to be made here outweigh short term negatives.
The Champions League structural changes, which are due to be published sometime in the next few months, will tell us what the scale of the challenge we face to maintain our current position in European football looks like, and that’s where our focus now lies.
Part of the planning process for The Celtic Village involved a look at whether or not our stadium should be expanded, taking it up to 80,000 … Lawwell dismissed that idea on the basis that until our circumstances change – i.e. in terms of playing in Scotland – that it has little commercial merit.
But the very notion that it could be looked at again if we find things are different is proof that we are looking ahead to that point. When a European League or whatever it may be comes about, Celtic will definitely be there because we’ve merited our inclusion. We’ve built something sustainable, something that will last, and we’ve done it whilst having a top class coach at the helm who is building, bit by bit, a top class team.
No European League will be set up without the official sanction of UEFA and so when it comes it will not be decided on the basis of how many fans sit in a club’s stadium every week, or on phony reputations or with any consideration as to how it will be perceived by those who are not invited to the party.
It will be done for sporting reasons, and nothing more.
We will be there. Sevco will not.
Our club has long known that, and has been preparing for it and we are aware of how the Scottish media would try to present our being invited and Sevco being excluded; “You can’t have one without the other,” they will wail, and try to devalue the idea even as it takes form.
Celtic’s answer to that is already in the public domain. We would welcome the chance to be all we can be, without their malign presence at our heels. We’ve been moving away from that stupid concept for years now. The breakaway point didn’t come in 2012, that just made it official.
The tide has moved again, and it will wash the “Old Firm” concept away.
This is the first sign, the first writing on the wall.
Sevconuts, read it and weep.