Celtic v Dundee in the United States - the pros and cons

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland
Celtic players prepare to play Real Madrid in Philadelphia in 2012
Celtic played Real Madrid in Philadelphia in 2012

The detail has still to be pored over if the prospect of Dundee facing Celtic in a Scottish Premiership fixture in the United States is to become a reality.

Finer points tend to be the most significant when a radical plan is being pursued and there are various factors to be considered while the idea is being assessed.

There will be various stages of permission to be overcome, beginning with the rest of the top-flight clubs, but more significantly concerning all of the game's governing bodies.

The idea ought to be fully explored, though, since a lack of innovative thinking has been a long-standing criticism of the executives in charge of Scottish football.


Financial gain has to be paramount. Commercial staff will bristle with opportunism, since an individual event can attract bespoke sponsorship and other revenue streams.

Television rights would need to be negotiated, since the Scottish Professional Football League already has deals in place with broadcasters for live and highlights packages. Even so, there would be a considerable domestic audience for a game played abroad and agreement could surely be reached.

Dundee players celebrating
Dundee were promoted in 2014 and have regularly been in the Premiership's top six ever since

The level of income is important since all SPFL deals are based on collective bargaining. Any money raised would be split between the 12 top-flight sides, which is a significant point since accommodating the fixture would require a rule change and so the support of other Premiership clubs in a vote.

Many chairmen would be torn between tradition and the prospect of additional revenue, but the latter is precious in the current environment of Scottish football.

Marketing worth can be overstated, since Celtic and Rangers have consistently sought to monetise the Irish and Scottish diaspora across the globe without making huge and regular financial gains. Several English Premier League clubs have tried to make inroads in other markets, too, including North America and the Far East.

Fans organisations
Philadelphia Celtic Supporters Club chairman John Joe Devlin: "If the NFL can take games to London I don't see why the SPFL can't allow a game to take place in the States."Dundee FC Supporters Society director Alan McEwan: "We look forward to hearing more details on what certainly sounds to be a forward thinking and incredible opportunity for both clubs."

Some reach can be established, but traditional markets remain more reliable and lucrative. Celtic can draw significant crowds in parts of the United States, playing in front of 34,018 when they faced Real Madrid at Philadelphia's Lincoln Field in 2012 and before 55,421 when they met Manchester United at the same stadium in 2004.

That element of the club's fanbase may be protected by regular visits, since affection for the club needs to be passed from generation to generation, but there is an argument that high-profile friendlies are more attractive than a regular domestic fixture, even if it is a competitive match.

Scottish football would be breaking new ground, though, since football fixtures are seldom played abroad. The Italian Supercopa has regularly been played outside Italy, in Washington in 1993, Tripoli in 2002, New York in 2003, Beijing in 2009, 2011 and 2012, Doha in 2014 and Shanghai in 2015.

Former Portland Timbers forward Kris Boyd
"With the two of them being Scottish clubs, it's right that they play in Scotland. There is an avenue for Scottish clubs to go over and see what's going on and try and make things better but to bring it back here to try and make the Scottish game better in Scotland"

However, that is essentially a friendly, between the winners of the previous season's Serie A and Coppa Italia winners. The game has not always been financially successful and has occasionally been dogged by poor event management, while Italian football in general has continued to fall behind the global reach of the German and English top-flights.

The innovative nature of Scottish football playing a competitive league match abroad would generate widespread interest that could be taken advantage of.


There are logistical challenges to overcome. Even if enough Scottish clubs voted in favour, the fixture would need the approval of the Scottish Football Association, the United States Soccer Federation, Uefa and Fifa. Any one of the governing bodies could scupper the plan and there has generally been a view that geographical boundaries should not be breached.

Richard Scudamore on the 39th game and football's growing popularity in North America

The costs involved would need to be met by the income and would involve providing travel and accommodation for match officials as well as the teams. The integrity of the competitive nature of the game would need to be protected, since it would still be part of the regular calendar of top-flight matches.

Fans of both clubs would also be disadvantaged, since few would have the means to travel for the game. Season-ticket prices, for instance, would need to take that into account. There will always be a tension between meeting the needs and wants of long-standing communities of fans against trying to grow the brand and reach of teams abroad.

Although Celtic can be sure of the extent of their following in pockets of the US, other matches involving high-profile teams have not fared well. When Inter Milan played Roma in the International Champions Cup at Lincoln Fields, the crowd was only 12,169.

Inter and Roma players playing each other in Philadelphia in 2014
Two of Italy's most famous clubs played in Philadelphia last year

The date of the match would need to be carefully chose to avoid clashing with other major US sporting events but also to limit the impact of the travel on the two competing sides in the domestic fixtures that immediately follow a trip to North America.

When England's Premier League considered the 39th game - an additional round of fixtures involving all of the top-flight clubs to be played in cities that bid for the right to host the games - the idea eventually ran out of enthusiasm.

There was little encouragement from the governing bodies, while many clubs and individuals within the game felt that playing the games abroad would undermine the credibility of the Premier League.

Scottish football needs to be more innovative, since it cannot rely on the broadcast income of the English top flight, but there are similar concerns to be addressed about the reputation of the Scottish game.

Some clubs may feel that the only two sides that could realistically gain substantially from the endeavour would be reigning Premiership champions Celtic and Championship leaders Rangers, since they already have established fan-bases in the US and Canada.

Accommodations are already made for sides wishing to play lucrative friendlies. SPFL rules allow each club to request one weekend off each season. Only Celtic and Rangers tend to have the drawing power to make that work for them.