Peter Lawwell has admitted the continued riches lavished on the Barclays Premier League in England have hampered the chances of Celtic competing south of the Border in the foreseeable future.
The Celtic chief executive was speaking after confirming a five-year deal with Boston-based sports kit firm New Balance, one he says underlines the club’s status as a “global football club” and provides some “positivity” for Scottish football.
However, the deal, believed to be worth £6 million a year, is still dwarfed by the sum top English clubs will receive following the signing of another lucrative TV rights deal earlier this year. The English Premier League agreed a record £5.14 billion live rights deals with Sky Sports and BT Sport for three seasons from 2016-17.
Now Lawwell concedes that Celtic’s hopes of playing in England have not been helped by the windfall. Even a proposed British Cup, where Scottish sides would be pitched in with those from the English Championship, could now be ditched because lower-tier English clubs can anticipate a trickle-down effect from the new television deal.
“The Football League was struggling,” said Lawwell. “I’m unsure of the detail but they may now be getting more money from the new EPL deal which might make it more difficult to bring together. We’ll see.”
Lawwell revealed there had been “chats” with clubs in England regarding a new cross-border cup competition. “Initially the English Football League were pretty keen on it,” he said. “But I don’t know whether recent events have pulled that down a wee bit. In terms of a British concept, there’s merit in it. We should be behind it if possible.”
As for a long-touted move to compete in the English league system, Lawwell admitted this looked less likely given the current health of the EPL. “The English Premier League deal that was announced a couple of weeks ago certainly makes it a bit more difficult – they are doing extremely well in peculiar circumstances,” he said. Lawwell added that he was neither “more or less optimistic” about the chances of the club one day playing in England. But asked if Celtic now accepted their future is in Scotland in terms of league participation, he said: “I would not argue against that.”
However, he revealed that clubs throughout second-tier countries in Europe were investigating ways and possibilities to maximise opportunities.
“We’re not alone,” he said. “I think there’s a recognition at Uefa that the big countries are moving away – particularly England – and the rest are being left behind. They are looking for solutions.
“The most likely at the moment would probably be one of two options: a change in European access and structure – more clubs with more European games and less domestic ones. That’s a popular idea throughout Europe.
“Secondly, maybe some form of British cross-border competition because it’s absolutely clear that we cannot operate anywhere near the highest level playing in a country of five million people. So it has to be cross-border – whether that’s more European matches or a British competition.”
Lawwell said he didn’t support the long discussed “North Atlantic League”, for north European clubs.
“[But] We all have to take steps to optimise opportunities for Scottish football as well as Celtic,” he said. “Eastern European countries, Scandinavian countries, they are suffering the same problems – small nations with small media values being outstripped by the bigger countries.
“We feel we have real potential. The fact is that we play in a country of five million and you have seen how media values have gone in other regions, of course you get frustrated. We feel if we were part of that then there would be no limits.”
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