Biggest European jackpot in Hearts' history: UEFA cash breakdown as Tynecastle coffers to swell by millions
The first earned a Europa Conference League qualifying berth through finishing third in the Premiership. It won’t be required, because the second was rather more significant. Saturday’s Scottish Cup semi-final defeat of Hibs secured the biggest Continental jackpot in Tynecastle Park history.
By reaching the final, Hearts assume the Scottish Cup’s European place this summer. Rangers will qualify for the Champions League through their Premiership placing. Even if they win the final at Hampden Park on May 21, the cup’s spot would then go to the team sitting third in the league.
So Hearts find themselves in a win-win situation. The Edinburgh club can now prepare for a Europa League play-off on August 18 and 25, the reward for the Scottish Cup winners. It is the final qualifying round before the tournament’s lucrative group stage.
Lose that tie and they parachute directly into the Europa Conference League groups in September due to UEFA’s tournament structure designed to keep as many teams from higher-ranked nations involved as long as possible.
Both competitions carry lucrative financial rewards. Getting through to the Europa League groups comes with an instant prize of circa £3.2m. In the Conference League groups, it’s around £2.7m. That’s before a ticket is sold or a point won.
A Europa League group victory pays £475,000 and a draw £160,000. The Conference League pays £420,000 per win and £140,000 for a draw. There is also a £250,000 “cushion” given to any club who loses the Europa League play-off and ends up in the Conference groups.
To summarise, Hearts will play one two-legged knockout tie and six group games between August and November, earning a shedload of money in the process. The club bank account has never processed a European cash injection of this extent. Don’t forget they also get just over £2m for finishing third in the Premiership.
“It's great for the club and the fans,” said manager Robbie Neilson. “Firstly, the passports are out for the punters because we are now guaranteed four away games. I'm sure they will be there in their numbers. Then you've got massive European nights at Tynecastle and there is nothing better than a European night there.
“Financially, it's guaranteed money for the club which will allow us to build. However, we aren't going to turn into world-beaters over night. It will allow us to take another step forward so we can try to cement that European position and get the money again and again and again. It's going to be difficult to do that.”
Earning that level of income on a yearly basis would set any Scottish club apart from the rest, although not quite on a par with Celtic and Rangers. Winning this season’s Premiership is worth £3.35m, with second place getting £2.4m and third earning just over £2m.
European money is on a different level to domestic financial prizes. “It is, that's what allows you to take that next step and it's very important. It's all about recruitment now in the summer,” added Neilson. “Hopefully we can win the Scottish Cup final, we've got five league games first and then we can try to improve that squad.”
Reaching that final is an achievement in itself but Hearts are determined to make an impact. After progressing at breakneck speed in the last 12 months, a major trophy would top everything off.
“It's our third final in four years and we lost the other two, so I hope this third one will be different,” said Neilson. “We have guys who have experienced it now.
“Michael Smith, John Souttar and a couple of others were here for the first one [in 2019], loads of them were here for the second one [in 2020], and hopefully they have garnered enough experience to enjoy the last one and win it.
“I always believe it takes time. Very few teams go into their first final and win it, then win the next one and the next one. Sometimes you need the experience of being there, the build-up to the day, and that feeling of being comfortable to go and win it.”
Hurt from recent defeats at Hampden should be a motivating factor. Neilson is convinced the expertise of knowing how to pace yourself through a draining showpiece occasion is one of the most important aspects.
“You need the motivation to go and do it. I think a lot of it is down to experience,” he said. “I've been there. The first time I went to Hampden for a semi-final you realise what a full house there is like.
“We were used to playing in front of 16,000 at Tynecastle at that time. At Hampden there was 52,000. You've spent the whole night thinking about it. You've spent the morning coming into the ground thinking about it.
“You've warmed up at 100 miles an hour because you've got loads of energy. Then, by the time the game starts, you're knackered. Gone. It takes two or three times to understand that and be prepared for what's going to happen.
“We've been in three semi-finals and two finals in recent years, so that's five games for players to get used to it.
“I thought we were outstanding in the way we dug in on Saturday after injuries kicked in. We lost Andy Halliday, who was a battler in midfield. Cammy Devlin came in but he hasn't really trained or played for ages. We lost Craig Halkett, a leader in defence. Stephen Kingsley has been outstanding for us and had to come off as well. We really had to dig it out.
“Credit to Taylor Moore, Aaron McEneff and guys like that who came in. They haven't had the game time they would have liked but they have done is trained well every day. They got their reward for that.”