Irish League champions set for new European cash boost
Second chance move gives title rivals a major incentive
Crusaders and Coleraine have both given a huge welcome to news that the Danske Bank Premiership winners will pocket even more funding from their European campaign next season.
The champions will enter the first qualifying round of the Champions League and if they lose in that competition they will enter a new Europa League route, giving them a second chance at raking in more continental cash.
The minimum financial reward for the champions is approximately £701,000 but that figure could rise to around £1m if they can win in Europe or land a glamour tie.
If the Irish League winners lose their Champions League first qualifying round tie they will enter the second qualifying round of the Europa League.
Crues boss Stephen Baxter - whose side currently lead the Premiership by two points ahead of a crucial Easter Tuesday showdown with Coleraine - said: "This is absolutely marvellous for Irish League clubs competing in Europe.
"All this will hopefully give us a better chance of qualifying for Europe and competing with the top clubs. We have seen how club structures work in countries like Estonia, Lithuania and Albania and I think you've got to put new structures in place to keep improving."
Coleraine chairman Colin McKendry added: "The financial rewards are unreal, mindboggling really. The figures are massive, nearly £1m potentially, and that's huge for an Irish League club."
Champions are awarded £227,000 for winning the league and the first qualifying round payment is £245,000.
Defeat in that fixture would result in a second qualifying round Europa League tie worth another £227,000.
If the second qualifying round of the Champions league can be reached then the financial reward is £333,000, with a further £245,000 Europa League payment up for grabs.
Earlier this season, Linfield exited the Champions League at the hands of Celtic in the second qualifying round and their European journey was over.
This year, a similar exit would leave them two ties away from the Europa League group stages.
Progression to the second round of the Champions League process and subsequent exit — as the Blues suffered this term — would push them into the third qualifying round of the Europa League along with 19 other teams.
The 10 winners of those ties will progress to the final hurdle, the Europa League play-offs, alongside six teams eliminated from the Champions League third qualifying round.
The eight winners of those ties will earn their spot in the Europa League group stages.
Clubs can pocket the home gate receipts, however they may need to purchase a charter flight which can cost £87,500.
Coleraine chairman Colin McKendry added: “With the European money that came our way, we were able to introduce a new card system for supporters and put in a new club shop which has been very successful.
“The money should be invested wisely and if we can make our clubs stronger then we can perform better in Europe.
“There can be television money too, like Linfield enjoyed, and you have to take advantage of it.
“I would like to see us bring our facilities up to standard and work together to make us more competitive both domestically and in Europe.
“There’s a consultation process under way to get us moving in that direction.
“Crusaders look to be adopting a more full-time approach and I would support any move that makes us more professional.
“Like many others, I can recall when Coleraine were struggling financially so any significant funds from Europe can help us do the right things in the future.
“I can understand concerns being raised about a divide opening up with a feeling the rich will get richer but that might not necessarily be the case.”
As things stand, the Premiership winners enter the first qualifying round of the Champions League, playing in the Champions route. On top of that, the Irish Cup winners, the Irish League runners-up and the winners of the European play-offs enter the first qualifying round of the Europa League.
Next season’s Champions League first qualifying round ties will take place on July 10/11 and 17/18, while the Europa League first qualifying rounds are scheduled for July 12 and 19.