In a recent article, Phil Mac Giolla Bhain explored the interesting point that there is an opportunity for Celtic to tap even further into its massive global market by finding a way of ‘monetising’ the affinity that millions of Irish Americans have with the club’s unique historical narrative:
Among other suggestions made in this article, one is that in order to be a successful modern day football club Celtic needs to make more of its global appeal by fully exploiting its story in markets such as North America, with which I completely agree.
However, I would be reluctant to go quite so far as to agree with the ultimate marketing route suggested in this article, whether there are genuine historical grounds for it or not, that Celtic ‘owning the Famine’ would be the ‘key to the door of Irish America’.
That aside, another interesting point that is definitely worth exploring is whether having such a massive supporter base to tap into can be the answer that a club like Celtic needs in order to help it compete consistently at the highest level.
My view is that this would still not be enough. I believe that the Celtic story will only take the football club so far in today’s game, even if it was fully exploited in such a manner that it took the club to a different financial level.
Celtic Football Club is undoubtedly a global brand:
It is a well know story that Celtic was founded with the charitable purpose of raising money to support the poor families living in the East End of Glasgow.
The name ‘Celtic’ was intended to reflect the coming together of Irish and Scottish communities, from which the club still draws considerable support today; both at home, and also across the various continents that became the settling place of the Scottish and Irish Diasporas.
Combined with successfully exploiting opportunities in newer geographical markets in recent years, such as Japan and South Korea, this is the bedrock of Celtic’s ability to operate as a global brand, despite the limitations of its current league context and its associated media revenues.
Therefore both in purpose and in name, it is a football club with an intrinsic social dimension and a very powerful global appeal. But relying on this story can only take Celtic so far.
Regrettably, whilst having a unique and inspirational story to share is vital to the club’s ability to tap into the potential of its globally dispersed supporters and admirers, the ability to compete with the world’s strongest (wealthiest) clubs seems likely to be choked off by the limited appeal of the rest of Scottish football in general.
And there is no way of getting around this problem without wholesale financial collapse of football leagues elsewhere at one extreme, creating opportunities for Scottish football to reposition itself accordingly; or parity of investment in our game with that of other major European leagues, at the other extreme.
Of course, neither is likely to happen; whilst other football leagues continue to get stronger, the rapidly diminishing appeal of Scottish football makes it impossible to attract the financial investment required to compete.
In the meantime, Celtic will just need to keep striving to punch above its commercially restricted weight, by relying on the continued interest of its globally dispersed supporter base, and on its domestic dominance offering a slender chance of a route into the more financially lucrative European competitions.
And of course, this continued interest will never be guaranteed. Many local and expatriate supporters have been drifting away because of the sectarian poison and racial hatred that is generated when certain unsavoury elements of Scottish society choose to read more into the Celtic story than it actually contains, particularly when it is juxtaposed with negative intent with that of their former rivals, Rangers FC. And others have just found different sports in their new countries to follow.
So in the long term this may be as far as Celtic can go. Settling for an impressive global ranking, given the poverty of its domestic circumstances, may be the best that Celtic can hope for – and it would be no mean achievement to sustain this in the years to come – unless there was ambition among other similarly stunted clubs to radically alter the context of their game.
The Celtic story will always carry a great deal of weight for the club, generation after generation. There is no question of that. But there are many other clubs with their own great stories, each competing for a slice of the action.
In my opinion, it is not the story that will act as the catalyst for transformation, although it will definitely play a very significant part; it is simply the commercial appeal of the league in which Celtic plays, and unless that changes, nothing else will.