Northern Ireland's World Cup play-off could be worth £12m jackpot to IFA
Northern Ireland's World Cup crunch play-off next month could be worth up to a staggering £12m to the Irish Football Association.
Qualification for the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia would mean the biggest windfall in the IFA's long history with total prize money for the Fifa tournament set to hit record levels.
Following the climax of the World Cup qualifying groups in Europe last night, Michael O'Neill's side now know that they will face Italy, Croatia, Denmark or Switzerland in November's play-offs with the draw taking place in Zurich next Tuesday.
Martin O'Neill's Republic of Ireland, like Northern Ireland, will be unseeded and are in the same situation in terms of who they can meet in the win or bust two legged affair.
While captain Steven Davis and his team-mates have spoken about the glory element and the dream come true nature of reaching Northern Ireland's first World Cup finals since 1986, the financial aspect of qualification would be a monumental boost to the IFA, who earlier this year reported a profit after tax of £3.7m.
In last year's Euro 2016 finals, thanks to the efforts of the Northern Ireland players the IFA earned €10.5m (€8m for participating, €1m for beating Ukraine and €1.5m for reaching the last 16) which equated to over £9m.
Those figures were mind-boggling for IFA officials, but they will be bigger and better again should O'Neill's men make it to Russia.
Fifa bigwigs will release the official numbers for prize money later this year, but financial football experts have already been doing their sums and it is estimated that for the 2018 finals there will be a preparation fee of £1.5m handed to each of the 32 competing countries, with those eliminated at the group stage receiving around £7.5m.
If Northern Ireland were to make it through to the last 16, as they did in the Euros, the prize money would be around £9m.
Combined with the preparation fee that would total £10.5m for reaching the first knockout stage.
The IFA would be hopeful of taking that to the £12 million mark through sponsorship, merchandising, shirt sales, television revenue and gate receipts from glamour friendlies that could be arranged on the back of World Cup qualification.
For the last World Cup in Brazil in 2014, Fifa made a profit of £2.1 billion. They believe they will improve on that in Russia, so it is little wonder they can increase the prize money.
Three years ago, Germany, who topped Northern Ireland's qualifying group, landed $35 million for winning the competition in Rio. Some are estimating that the victors this time could end up with close to $50 million.
If Northern Ireland qualify for the 2018 finals, what will the IFA do with all the money?
If the Euro 2016 cash is anything to go by it will be split three ways, with around a third going towards paying for the likes of chartered flights, top class accommodation and the best food and facilities; another third being used for bonus payments to players, backroom staff and medical personnel; and the rest going to the IFA's legacy projects.
Any player involved in the qualifying campaign could expect a bonus payment, though for the World Cup it is thought fees would be proportional depending on games played.
It is understood that manager Michael O'Neill would be in line to receive a separate bonus to the players if he is able to inspire the team to a rare appearance at a World Cup.
Earlier this year at the IFA's annual general meeting at the Armagh City Hotel, there was much satisfaction amongst Board members when it was revealed the Association made a profit of £3.7 million, most of that courtesy of the Euro finals in France.
Around £1.5 million was awarded to the IFA Foundation, a new charitable arm chaired by former IFA President Jim Shaw with the aim of delivering football development work and to further equip the IFA to grow the game.