Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes: Just gonna have to be a different man.
These days football is business and the most important round thing at any club is no longer made of leather - it's minted and carries a picture of the Queen's head. That said, fans shouldn't necessarily fear the assimilation of football by money men. There are things we can learn that would undoubtedly benefit us and since I've repeatedly asked us to embrace change, its only right that I set out those changes I feel would benefit us most. I apologise if this reads as a business document but its necessary to approach change with a degree of organisation. Most businesses regularly carry out an audit - they look at the assets they have, the threats they face and the opportunities they miss - and it's my belief that this is the direction that football clubs and fans across the country must take if we're to see the beautiful working class game shaped in a direction that we still want to follow follow.
The reality of the credit crunch.
In business profit is king. It's all about maximising returns whilst cutting costs; tight financial management coupled with aggressive marketing. Nowhere has this been more successful than in the English Premier League. Coverage of the league is wall to wall - live games on Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays and often midweek too with a marketing machine that would have us believe that it's the most exciting form of mass entertainment on the planet. Corporate sponsorship suggests that it makes sense to deal in the football world, if not to make money from actual club ownership, as firms throw in millions just to be associated with the EPL.
What can Rangers learn?
First and foremost they must learn to be leaner and meaner with their money whilst doing all they can to attract investment. I don't like being associated with our neighbours across the city but it's beyond doubt that the Old Firm brand is stronger internationally than Rangers or Celtic alone. We've seen a recent move towards joint sponsorship by NTL and Carling and this must continue if we're going to maximise our potential revenue: recent announcements notwithstanding.
We differ from Celtic in as much as we've contracted out our merchandising to JJB but with high-street retailing becoming almost obsolete, the future may be to embrace on-line partnerships with retailers who are ready for the 21st century. Amazon have effectively put Zavvi out of business whilst on-line sports retailers continue to hurt high-street stores such as SportsSoccer and (indeed) JJB. A global Rangers support means global branding, global advertising and global retailing.
We're told that we must also cut our cloth accordingly. Most businesses are looking to reduce their staff costs with record redundancies and unemployment not seen in more than a decade. Football can be no different - if we don't have it then we cant spend it. Supporters demand that players be bought and sold and the reality in the Premiership age is that the club who pays the most money gets the best players. We've gone down the route of spending to compete - like the guys on a night out who out-do each other with ever increasing generosity in their tips and flamboyance in their gestures. At the end of the night the result is an empty wallet and a fortnight of beans on toast until the next pay cheque arrives. Those days are well and truly gone for us and even those such as Chelsea with their billionaire patron are finding it increasingly difficult to buy their way to success.
The reality is that we need to raise £3million by the end of the month or face as yet unspecified consequences. There are no guarantees that, having found this £3million, we'll be immune to further cost cutting yet supporters will be expected to pay their hard earned cash in April and May for the next rollercoaster season. Where are the guarantees that the season tickets paid for in May will grant access to the players expected in August and September? We need to reduce our debts to a realistic level where fire sale fund-raising simply isn't necessary and that means controlling spending on both fees and wages.
American sports adopt a salary cap to ensure as even a playing field as possible. Whilst such a move would be illegal in Europe and players would be queueing up to challenge any move to restrict earning potential, we must ensure that we no longer pay unsustainable wages. We're faced with the prospect of paying £6.25million a season on a dozen players who barely feature in our squad. 14,000 season ticket holders subsidise the wages of the likes of Lee McCulloch and DaMarcus Beasley to such an extent that lesser clubs simply cannot offer deals that are attractive enough to tempt our deadwood to move. John Fleck has the squad number 53 - cutting our cloth accordingly means working within a wage and squad structure: a self-imposed salary cap by the back door.
We also need more effective regulation. In a recent Times article Zara Philips was named the 97th most powerful person in British sport. 47 of those on the list of the power 100 are involved in football so its clear that our national game still dominates national life. 23 are involved in sports administration. Sportsmen, women and managers make up less than a quarter of the 100 movers and shakers. Not a single entry represents a Scottish club or professional football in Scotland itself. That Sir Alex Ferguson is top of the list should come as no surprise - he's dominated the top level of English football during a glittering career but to have Chris Hoy deemed more powerful than the men who run our national game is not only embarrassing but also deeply troubling.
We're a nation of around 5.5million people and on any given Saturday a large proportion of our population will be involved with football in some way - those who play on the local municipal pitches, the parents who take their kids to under 10 games or those who back their heroes in the stands. Is it too much to ask for administrators within the game who will help shape its direction rather than ones who are happy to have it shaped by others? We need a strong SPL, a vocal SFA and club chairman and CEOs who take control of football. For these people to be overshadowed by a 3-day eventer is simply astounding: a minor royal is deemed more powerful in British sport today than the chairman of a club which attracts over 50,000 people to every home game. Scottish football has become marginalised: reduced to parochial fights about home-nation internationals during the fortnight of a multi-billion pound showcase for UK sport.
We need people running football for the continued benefit of the game and that means involving those from the business world who must now be encouraged to see football as a career choice and not simply a weekend distraction. When John Greig justifies his position on the Rangers board simply by reputation, and a man who had serious input into the founding of UEFA's flagship Champions League is forced from the board due to back-biting and politics, you have a real lack of talent to worry about. A former male model is no real substitute for a CEO with experience and ability.
The green shoots of recovery.
After reading that I wouldn't blame any fan for reaching for the bottle. It's easy to paint a picture of doom and gloom but infinitely harder to look for reasons to be genuinely hopeful. Baroness Vadera was chastised for such a crass remark about the UK economy but I genuinely believe that football is at a turning point and we have the basic building blocks to make a strong and vibrant footballing future a reality. We have a core of young players who could be the mainstay of a successful Rangers for a long time - a midfield featuring Thomson, Davis and the prodigal son Fleck feeding balls through to Naismith. A new manager may yet make silk purses out of Edu and Lafferty who have so far proven to be sows' ears and young Danny Wilson could certainly fulfil his reputed potential.
The key is holding on to such assets whilst riding ourselves of the expensive, wasteful drains on our resources and carefully replacing them with more cost-effective options. That doesn't mean a return to the days of Barry Nicholson or Bob Malcolm or going down the route of taking any two-bit SPL player who impresses against us. I genuinely dread to think where signings of the calibre of Don Cowie would take us. It simply means that we must invest our resources into scouting and training and with a world-class facility already in place we've got a massive head start over the opposition. When players such as Tamas Hajnal, voted in the top 11 Bundesliga players for the 07/08 season, are moving for £1million (the same fee we paid for an ageing striker who appeared on our radar whilst playing for our Edinburgh opponents) it gives you real hope that bargains are out there. Its up to Rangers to put in place a means of identifying them.
What we need is a Rangers run on more prudent principles and one that invests heavily in research and development. In any other business these would be obvious concepts but in a world where some fans continue to deny economic reality it wont be an easy message to convey. A lot of supporters are more world-wise than ever these days with many being true scholars of the global game and that means football must work with fans in order to forge a way forward. In no other business would a chairman show such open disdain for his customers and the business and political worlds have already shown that the public have no stomach for the spin that paints the opening of a four point gap by our biggest rivals as a useful point gained. Positive PR seems an alien culture in the days of unchecked media aggression and misinformation that would fill a communist state with pride.
We need honesty from our club, impartiality from our media and a genuine interest from our supporters. By bringing business people together with football people both sets can find a way to drive our national game forward. The money men can educate fans on the harsh realities of the balance sheet whilst supporters can educate the suits on the traditions of the game whilst helping them explore new markets. The focus group is a business staple, yet Rangers and the support appear less able than ever to communicate with each other. For our part we undo the great work done by groups such as The Blue Order (who do themselves and every Rangers fan real credit with the legends banners produced over the past few years) with cheap sniping at each other for daring to put our head above the parapet. We can't all agree on everything all of the time - simply saying yes to the man in charge is what's put us in the mess in the first place - but we as Rangers fans owe it to ourselves to work both with the club and with each other to create the conditions in which Rangers can flourish.
We need a Rangers that communicates with its support. One which does not waste limited resources on expensive flops and increases the odds of finding the next superstar, either home or abroad, by actively trying to find and nurture talent. We need football administrators who have the courage to make difficult decisions, a footballing press that reports them with honesty and integrity, sparking informed debate and a support who are interested enough to pay real attention to the day to day issues affecting our game whilst keeping a clear focus on the foundations that must be set in place. All of that takes time and effort over years, not months. The days of chasing the quick fix must surely be over and consigned to the bin.
There are no guarantees that the Rangers of season 09/10 would feature the highly paid stars we witnessed this weekend or that the Rangers of seasons 10/11, 11/12 or 12/13 would be in a position to mount an effective challenge both at home and on the European stage. What can be guaranteed however is that football will not right itself by means of crossed fingers and blind faith. For Rangers to truly prosper there must be meaningful dialogue, difficult decision making and the setting in motion of a process of business sensibility. Its up to all of us - from Sir David Murray down to the parents in the family section who educate their children in the traditions of their forefathers - to play our part in the modern era of Rangers Football Club.
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