Linfield are in line to net £1 million windfall thanks to Celtic tie
Linfield are on course to become the first Irish League side to pocket a cool £1million from a European campaign.
If the Blues can conquer La Fiorita of San Marino in the first qualifying round of the Champions League, they will net a financially lucrative showdown with Scottish giants Celtic.
David Healy's side host La Fiorita at Windsor Park on Wednesday, June 28 (7.45pm), with the second leg scheduled for Tuesday, July 4 (7.30pm), but Blues fans are already confident their side will win that tie and face the Hoops in a competitive fixture for the first time.
Celtic and Linfield would need to reach an agreement on dates and kick-off times, with an early start at Windsor Park on July 11 one option.
The game could kick-off at 5.30pm, subject to the clubs and the PSNI reaching agreement.
Whatever the timing of the fixtures, Linfield will pocket a huge cash windfall, enhancing the club's chances of consolidating their position at the top of domestic football.
Reaching the second qualifying round will earn the Blues around £700,000, but the Celtic clash, with its potential television money, gate receipts and advertising, will take that figure closer to the £1million mark.
Travel expenses will not be huge, though Linfield will have additional security costs to pay.
But while Cliftonville's ticket prices for their clash with Celtic at Solitude in 2013 averaged £25, Linfield could sell tickets at £30, and with a crowd of around 15,000 - less than the 18,600 capacity due to segregation - that would bring in around £450,000.
Irish Cup final adult tickets rose from £15 to £20 last season.
One Irish League source, who was involved in the preparations for the Cliftonville v Celtic games in 2013, said: "When you factor in everything, Linfield are in line for an easy £1million. It's huge hassle for the club from an organisational point of view but it's also a massive money spinner."
The Reds' clash with Celtic at Solitude, played in front of 6,000 fans, was televised live by the BBC, and Linfield can also negotiate a lucrative TV deal of at least £100,000. But Linfield still have some way to go to match Dundalk, who pocketed around €7million in prize money from their European run last season all the way to the group stages.
Blues chairman Roy McGivern said: "In European footballing terms, I don't think we've ever had a bigger draw, and we've been playing European football for a long time. You think back to the 1960s when we played in the quarter-final of the European Cup against CSKA Sofia - that was the year ('67) Celtic became the first British team to win it. This is another huge draw.
"We know just by getting through the various rounds what it can be worth financially, but the unknown factor here is what you might make from an increased crowd at the home leg at Windsor Park.
"You also factor in television rights and so on, but it's too early to put a figure on that. It's a huge draw financially. Already being in the Champions League is rewarding, and factor in all the other things. For a part-time Irish League club it's massive."
Meanwhile, new Celtic winger Jonny Hayes (above) is looking forward to European battles.
The Republic of Ireland international said: "It's going to be a tough game in Europe. I've got a little bit of experience playing there with Aberdeen.
"Every game is tough so regardless of who we play, they will look forward to playing Celtic and probably raise their game a little bit. Regardless of the opposition, I can't wait to get started. If the first competitive game is in Ireland, I'll look forward to it.
"Fans treat games differently from players. We have to approach every game the same."