As a life long Glasgow Celtic supporter I find this story to be pretty intriguing, not only does it involve a club that I am extremely passionate about but it also centers around the NASL, a league that I obviously follow as a supporter of Indy Eleven.
A few days ago the Scottish Sun ran a story reporting that the clubs owners had held preliminary talks with NASL chief Bill Peterson to gather information on what it would take to enter a team into North America's second tier of professional football. At the moment obviously the reports are coming from this side of the pond, and all we know is 'dialogue' has taken place.
From my own experience over the last five or six years Celtic Football Club play their cards pretty close to their chest when it comes to how much information the media at large are able to receive. The result of many strained relationships between the club and the Scottish Media stretching back even before the demise of their arch rivals Rangers.
While it is unusual for a story like this to break from the UK side before an official club announcement, it is not surprising to me that information may have been gleaned from sources within the USA. By time there is a story out there, then there is most likely a glimmer of truth in it, and it is possible the club wish it that way.
Is this the first time Celtic have been connected with the NASL?
No, it is not. However, unless you are a Celtic fan who pays attention or a Jacksonville Armada fan, you may be forgiven for missing a story that went out in 2014 connecting the Glasgow club with the NASL's newest franchise.
Jacksonville Armada's president Steve Livingstone is a former Celtic FC season ticket holder and was involved in talks with Celtic FC about setting up a relationship between the two clubs. The story surfaced and disappeared just as quickly, there has been no other evidence that anything ever transpired from this relationship. Despite being posted on Celtic FC's website, Armada and NASL's website all evidence of the story has since vanished.
Celtic do have other Trans-Atlantic connections though with a now well established relationship with Santos Laguna of Liga MX. A relationship that could be further developed with seven international spots available in the NASL should Celtic apply.
Can Celtic afford to establish a new club in North America?
Had this been a story about establishing a club in MLS, then I would of course be highly dubious, I don't think it would be impossible but it would depend largely on a group of investors on both sides of the Atlantic.
As we have seen Manchester City have dipped into the US scene with New York City FC, as much as I believe Celtic have an established international brand, currently I don't think the MLS would be a viable venture for anyone involved in the club. The estimated costs for starting an MLS team are in excess of $100m.
The NASL would be the perfect place to start if Celtic feel the need to branch out into the US Soccer scene. Even though Celtic are not a big player as far as success goes in European football, they are a club who consistently remain in profit from season to season and are not reliant on being bank rolled like many of the biggest teams in Europe. Celtic are a huge team in a small country and therefore cannot afford to be a borrowing club.
The estimated costs for starting an NASL team are remarkably lower, although it is near impossible to find exact information, it is estimated franchise start up is now around $1.5 million and owners would be expected to prove they have a certain amount of documented worth. Considering the estimated value of current Celtic owner Dermot Desmond is around 1.35 billion Euros you could be forgiven for thinking this should not be a problem for Celtic FC.
Another name that sprang to mind when I heard this story was that of Fergus McCann, aka "The Bunnet" highly regarded as the savior of modern day Celtic Football Club. Fergus McCann has achieved legendary status within the Celtic support without even having ever kicked a ball. He is responsible for saving the club from the brink of bankruptcy, rebuilding the stadium to what we have now and laying the foundations for the recent successes of Celtic FC since the turn of the century.
Fergus McCann is an extremely wealthy Scottish born Canadian who since leaving Celtic has been operating a luxury first class business coach service between Boston and Manhattan called LimoLiner. At 74 years old he may be reluctant to have an active role in the running of a soccer club, but he is a businessman and he may be interested in dropping some dollar into any potential project that would involve the club where is regarded as a hero.
What would the benefits be for the NASL, US Soccer and Celtic Football Club... ?
As we have explored before in our podcasts, since the termination of business relations with Traffic Sports the NASL are badly in need of some cash injection from current and prospective owners. If Celtic were to throw their lot in to make this a success, they may also be able to inject some much needed revenue into the organization itself.
The other benefit to the NASL would be the generation of further interest from a European audience who may be interested in watching the games, this would not only further the recognition of the league but also create new supporters for the division and for the other clubs in it. It would not be a huge step towards an international market but it certainly could be a start.
In the same respects Celtic coming to a US league would further enhance attention to the game here abroad. If Celtic do make this a thing, it is unlikely they will do things in short measures and before long I would imagine a professional academy would be set up, giving young players an opportunity to take steps towards a professional career without possibly having to commit to a college program. If this increases the chances of a US based player becoming a professional and achieving recognition from leagues elsewhere in the world then this would be good for soccer in the USA at a domestic and national team level.
The benefits for Celtic are that they could enhance their brand in the USA, one that has been established here for a long time. Also it may provide an outlet for Celtic to further their relations with Santos Laguna by adding Mexican and American players into the squad from that team. Celtic also have an extensive youth program and produce future professionals annually, some of who could be given time and experience in the NASL using the international allocation. A team in the USA could also help produce young talent from within the USA to make it to the Celtic squad in the Scottish Premier League.
Who would support this team and where would they play.... ?
Celtic currently have around 42 official supporters clubs in the United States under the North American Federation of Celtic Supporters Clubs. I know for sure this list is still being updated as there are small groups in Indianapolis and Columbus that have not been added.
There are 23 listed in the USA and 19 listed in Canada. The biggest numbers of clubs appear in the north east with most being in New York but also New Jersey, Boston and Philadelphia. There are a total of fourteen supporters club stretched throughout towns and cities in Ontario. Although there is no exact figure, Celtic support throughout North America is thought to be in the region of one to one and half million people who consider Celtic to be their favorite team.
While it is important not to discount Canada from the picture, I think it would be in Celtic's best interest to be a part of the US market. The obvious places to locate a team who will be connected to Celtic's rich Scottish and Irish history then the obvious places would be either New York or Boston.
New York I think would be a no go, despite the vast amounts of Celtic supporters that would be in the surrounding area, putting a team in direct competition with the Cosmos and also competing with the markets of NY Red Bulls and New York City FC.
The next most obvious choice would be Boston, for anyone who follow sports you will already know Boston is already green and white with one of the most famous basketball teams in the country.
Boston also has a large population of people with Irish and Scottish ancestry, and one of the largest Celtic Supporters clubs in the USA. There is no current NASL team in Massachusetts but there would be competition for market with New England Revolution.
The other options may be San Francisco or Philadelphia, both cities have a wealth of current Celtic supporters and the NASL are still looking for a west coast interest, they may already have one that we don't know about. There have been rumors about San Francisco and this could be a potential target for the hoops.
Philadelphia has a large Celtic support already and often holds the annual conference and event for all supporters in North America, there would be competition from Philadelphia Union, it could work but somehow I don't see Celtic wanting to be in that location. I think Celtic will want a high profile city with a large population so if it is to be in the USA then I would choose between Boston and San Francisco.
As I said I wouldn't altogether rule out Canada and I think Celtic would primarily favor Toronto with Vancouver being another possible option.
At the moment we are looking at a short news story in a daily rag, and if true it is merely an enquiry. If there is any truth in it all, regardless of my allegiance to Celtic F.C. I do think this is something that could benefit the NASL, US Soccer and Celtic football club equally.