25 January 2013

'Bigger is better'? Maybe not

by Andy McGowan | CRO Contributor
No matter what anyone thinks of the man it is difficult to deny that Charles Green provides great material for our mainstream media and, more often than not, causes some pretty large and polarizing debates among the Rangers faithful. It’s certainly been no different since a meeting was held at Ibrox on Wednesday night where Mr Green met with supporters clubs’ representatives for a Q&A session.
The majority of answers given were nothing new to anyone who enjoys a regular gaze into the curious world of Charles Green. We heard more about naming rights, league reconstruction and kit deals and sponsors. One of the major taking points following the meeting however was the prospect of increasing the capacity of Ibrox with Green stating, “nine-thousand Rangers fans didn't renew and if they try to come back next season we will have to build an extension.” It is, on the surface at least, another throw-away comment and we all know Charles is prone to hyperbole and hypothetical statements, but it does give a real insight into what is being discussed for potential increases to our revenue streams.
It is my understanding that almost all of the major fan groups aren’t keen on the idea of expanding Ibrox and feel that our current capacity is adequate for our needs, although the Rangers Supporters Trust have told us that if there was a viable business case put forward for it they would support expansion plans. The idea would presumably be to remove the screens at either side of the Govan Stand and replace them with more seats while maintaining prices to maximise attendances and potentially bring our capacity in line with, or beyond, that of Parkhead. 
The question is when does this potential avenue become viable for the club? At the moment the club is being backed tremendously by the fans. Our season-ticket sales in Division Three is a remarkable achievement, something that will live long in the mind of more than just Rangers supporters, but will this same backing still be present in the Second Division?
For the moment we have to presume that Rangers will be playing in SFL Division 2 next season until such a time as reconstruction plans become official and we are informed exactly when such changes are to be introduced. Now, if we are playing in Division Two next season with increased ticket prices are we going to hold the level of current season ticket holders? Possibly. Are we likely to see an increased demand for season tickets? Unlikely. Even an optimist would have to acknowledge that the reality is probably not. Even eventual promotion to the First Division would not be enough to raise enough demand to increase the capacity of our stadium.  
That only leaves us with the eventual possibility of staring back at our old friend in the Scottish Premier League. Many people in favour of an expanded Ibrox suggest implementing the plan when we are back in the top-tier and back competing in Europe. Currently they have a team in the SPL with a 60,000 capacity stadium enjoying a run in Europe and, to put it frankly, their attendances are dire. Only managing to fill their stadium on big European nights leaves them with nineteen poor league attendances and even poorer cup attendances. In fact, this was so problematic that they resorted to actually giving tickets away for a few games, with little success.
The product at the top of the game in Scotland simply no longer attracts the demand for 60,000+ capacity stadiums and it is likely that on Rangers’ return to the top flight the product will be shoddier and more expensive than ever before. There is quite simply no need, at least without monumental changes in both the landscape Scottish football and the economy in the UK at large, to increase the capacity of Ibrox.
It often leaves you with similar attendances as prior to expansion and a much poorer atmosphere into the bargain. One look at the Serie A in Italy would tell you that Juventus – arguably the biggest team in Italian football and certainly one of the best supported - struggled to sell-out most league fixtures in years gone by. In fact in certain games it resembled more of a ghost town than a vibrant football stadium home to such an illustrious team.
This prompted Juventus to move to the much smaller Juventus Stadium in 2011 which has a capacity of only 41,000 and, quite vitally, was more accessible than the Stadio Delle Alpi. Last May the club posted their highest attendance at their new home ground at 40,944, a far larger crowd than normally achieved at their former home boasting a capacity of 69,000.
Bigger isn’t always better. Simply increasing the capacity because we have the money in the bank to do so could be pointless, dangerous and detrimental to an amazing atmosphere at Ibrox. We don’t know what the future holds for Rangers, for Scottish football or indeed for Ibrox, but at the moment it’s my hope that Charles Green and Rangers Football Club look to improve the stadium for those who currently attend rather than looking to make room for those who don’t. 

Quality over quantity please, Charles. Right now we have both. Why change a winning formula?