15 January 2013

Ibrox: Then, Now, Forever?

by Andy McKellar | CRO Deputy Editor

The contentious and somewhat thorny issue of stadium renaming is once again very much back on the agenda as Rangers fans debate the pros and cons of such a move and attempt to arrive at a conclusion as to whether this is a step in the right direction or unwanted commercial exploitation of our club. Rumours have spread this week that Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct has purchased the right to have its company brand recognised in the name of our ground and such news has certainly resulted in a very mixed reaction.
There are those who have been vocally and visually against the very notion of our stadium being called anything other than Ibrox. We have heard the chants at our recent home matches and we have seen the signs held aloft in opposition to any move that would see our stadium being officially recognised by another name. Words such as history, heritage and tradition have been banded about and I must confess that, no more than a year ago, I would have been singing from the exact same hymn sheet.

There was one day however that completely changed my mind: 14th February 2012. This is a day that will forever be remembered as one of the darkest in our proud history and one which I'm sure will prove difficult to forget for a considerable number of years. I can still remember that horrible, sickening feeling when the news broke that we had entered administration and the days of anxiety that inevitably followed. It was a torrid time to be a bluenose.

When considering the proposal to rename our stadium I would urge all supporters to spare a moment’s thought to reflect on the events of the past year. I would urge them to remember the troubles and tribulations that darkened our days and to reflect on the harsh reality that the very existence of our beloved club was at risk.

The reckless financial mismanagement of our previous owners should serve as a lesson to everyone at Rangers Football Club, from the fans in the stand to the men in the boardroom. Financial prudence should now be at the forefront of our thoughts and the days of needless and unnecessary spending should be put well and truly behind us. We must now function as self-sustaining business and I'm sure many supporters are realistic enough to acknowledge that fact.

There are two ways in which Charles Green can set about protecting the long-term future of our club: reducing costs and maximising revenue. We have of course benefitted hugely from a significant drop in wages since our Third Division status was confirmed and a strict salary-cap looks set to be implemented. This alone though is perhaps not enough.

We have recently reaped the rewards of a very successful Initial Public Offering which has provided some much needed capital into the company for numerous projects. It speaks volumes that Rangers were able to attract in excess of £22M despite playing in the fourth-tier of Scottish football. This however is not a long-term solution. As a result Green has looked towards renaming Ibrox Stadium and while it would perhaps be something we would like to avoid in an ideal world, I think that it is something which we should all now embrace.

Football is no longer just a sport, it is a business. While it is nice to allow nostalgia and romance to wander into our thoughts, the bottom line is that Charles Green has a legal obligation to act in the best interest of the shareholders. A football club without its fans is of course largely worthless and so our CEO must find a balance which will satisfy the needs and demands of both. He’s certainly made a good job of doing that thus far.

As a football club and as a business we are still very much in the early stages of our rebuilding process. Our exit from the Scottish Premier League has limited our revenue streams and of course denied us any entitlement to participate in European football for a number of years. Therefore, right now, every penny should be a prisoner.

The rumoured £2.5M might not seem like a lot to a number of supporters. Certainly some fans might have optimistically hoped for more. That sum could however pay the wages of certain players for a few years or possibly be used to pay for new signings once the ludicrous transfer embargo has been lifted. It certainly isn’t a sum of money that we should stubbornly turn down without due consideration and in a way I am glad that Green has had the sense to at least explore this option.

Our stadium will always be Ibrox to me and to every other Rangers supporter out there. The sponsorship will benefit the business and benefit the fooballing side of things as a result. For those reasons alone the decision is relatively simple: take the money and run! It really is a no-brainer.