For many in England, last week’s news that the Premier League would not be inviting Rangers or Celtic to join anytime soon was a welcome relief. After all, the Premier League has already done enough damage in some eyes to the traditional feel of English football, despite unquestionably expanding the international reach of the English game.
But if the EPL was really all about international marketing, the rejection of Rangers and Celtic makes zero sense. The decision leaves the league incomplete for the North American market, even if it is dominant in the emerging Asian and African football markets.
Throughout many American pubs, you are far more likely to find a Rangers or Celtic supporters group holding court on Saturday mornings than fans from Premier League clubs. For those of us who grew up with the sport in the 1980s and 1990s, Rangers and Celtic were more massive in the states than any English club save perhaps Liverpool.
The casual American and Canadian fan that has gravitated to the Premier League since Eric Cantona’s days at Manchester United have certainly put English football on the front burner for many. However, the lingering attachment to the Old Firm clubs, still sell in America. The reputation of both clubs in the US and Canada are much stronger among casual football fans than they are in the British Isles, following a decade of Scottish decline.
As long as Rangers and Celtic are excluded from the Premier League, a large core of the American audience will be consuming different leagues in Europe. At one pub, last May as the SPL title race was in its hottest moment, several Rangers supporters told me they don’t watch the (English) Premier League. They prefer La Liga or the Bundesliga when not watching Rangers.
I have had similar conversations with Celtic fans in the past. Whether it is simply a matter of ex-pat Scots avoiding anything English (even if many managers and a few players are Scottish) or simply the rejection of a club that doesn’t seem to want them, the EPL will never reach its full potential stateside without the inclusion of the Old Firm.