THE Old Firm game will always be a hot ticket in Glasgow.
But with Rangers languishing so far behind Celtic, it is in danger of losing its box office appeal elsewhere.
I was stunned by the TV viewing figures for this season’s first Old Firm clash.
Just 275,000 people tuned in across the Sky Sports Football and Sky Sports Main Event channels to watch Celtic’s 2-0 victory at Ibrox.
That’s 26,000 fewer than watched the same day’s Championship clash between Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest.
It’s a whopping 145,000 fewer than the following day’s Sheffield derby.
Talk about a wake-up call.
We can say all we like in Scotland about how big a fixture the Old Firm clash is – and boy do we like to talk about it!
But the figures don’t lie. Fewer people than ever south of the border feel the same way.
Craig Bellamy got pelters before the Ibrox game for saying nobody in England cares about Celtic’s success.
We laughed at the time – but he had a point after all.
I split my time between Suffolk and London and the people I socialise with ask about Scottish football because I talk about it all the time.
But beyond my immediate group, nobody gives a monkey’s.
Neither Celtic nor Rangers get a look in down here.
When people are talking about football in the pubs, they’re talking about who’s going to come out on top between Manchester City and Manchester United this season.
They’re talking about Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool, they’re talking about Ronald Koeman and Everton.
Even Arsenal are struggling to get a look-in at the moment.
The Old Firm don’t register – and that’s a terrible thing for Scottish football.
Fans of other clubs might say it doesn’t matter, that I’m wrong. But I’m not.
Because when it comes to renegotiating Scotland’s TV deal, it puts the SPFL in a position of weakness.
Like it or not, the Old Firm game is the Scottish game’s big bargaining tool.
If it isn’t drawing in the viewers, it spells trouble for every other Scottish club.
Right now the big six Premier League clubs – the two Manchester clubs, Chelsea, Arsenal , Liverpool and Tottenham – are clamouring for a bigger slice of the English TV pie.
They are doing it because there is more and more money coming in from foreign-rights deals – and they are the big draw.
Their games are being moved about more than others’, they say, because more people want to see them, so they should be compensated.
For the Old Firm and Scottish football, it’s the opposite situation.
Very few people care outside of Scotland!
For me, the fact – and it is a clear fact – that Rangers have fallen way behind their rivals is a big factor.
It used to be that Old Firm games had titles riding on them.
Now all they have is pride.
That’s something people admire from afar. But it’s not enough to make people tune in.
Until there’s a real prospect of a title challenge from the Gers, or at least a drastic improvement, I can’t see people down south tuning in again.
Closing the gap will be Rangers’ objective for the foreseeable future.
In the meantime, Celtic will be doing their best to widen it further.
Hoops fans will tune in to see that every day of the week.
The fear is that nobody else will.