Discussing Friday's Rangers AGM

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Rewind to 27th November 2015 and Rangers chairman Dave King has just received rapturous applause following his address to shareholders at the club’s Annual General Meeting. Our institution, we were told, was “irreversibly on our way back” and that nothing would stop us from collectively reaching our ambition to return to the top of Scottish football once again.

Rhetoric alone however is not enough. The complete rebuild admittedly could not be realistically achieved in such a short period of time but it is clear that we as a club face significant challenges if we are to end Celtic’s recent dominance and re-establish Rangers as Scotland’s premier football club.

Both financially and in football terms, and I acknowledge that both and interlinked, we are a significant distance away from challenging for the Premiership title. As they say, the league table doesn’t lie.

This year’s AGM therefore should be less euphoric than recent General Meetings following the regime change that was secured at Ibrox and it would appear that it is time for a much more focused and serious evaluation of not only where we are but also, more importantly, how we get to where we need to be. The fans have stepped up spectacularly in recent years and will continue to do so but we need a long term business plan as much as we need a long term football operations plan.

Background

Let’s first examine the financial statements for the Rangers International Football Club plc for the year ended 30 June 2016, a period effectively covering season 2015/16.

Turnover increased significantly to £22.2m, a £5.9m increase on the previous year. This was largely as a result of significant increase in season-ticket sales and match-day attendances as Mark Warburton’s Rangers secured an overdue promotion to the top-flight.

Operating costs also reduced by £1.8m which resulted in a vastly reduced operating loss of £2.46m compared to a troubling £10.06m in the year to June 2015 under the previous regime.

The improvements therefore are fairly obvious and made all the more impressive when you considered the forward strides made by the team in football terms. Warburton managed, at little or no extra cost, to replace McCoist’s team of underachievers with a young, hungry squad which was entertaining to watch and achieved promotion, even if they should have added the Scottish Cup to the collection on the last day of the season and secured Europa League participation. What a financial boost that would have been!

Furthermore the football operations which had been badly neglected, and even actively depleted, by the Ashley regime were now being rebuilt with proper structures being put in place at Auchenhowie and head scout Frank McParland being brought in to enhance recruitment.

So all in all, a very good year.

Where are we now?

Football

At the time or writing Rangers sit third in the Premiership, one point behind Aberdeen and a huge 11 points behind Celtic who have a game in hand.

While it’s a somewhat ridiculous and almost irrelevant observation we currently sit equally as close to the bottom of the table in terms of points as we do to the top. Clearly there is work to be done.

Our recruitment this year had to be near-perfect if we were to have any hope of mounting a credible challenge. Sadly it wasn’t.

The risky signing of Joey Barton has backfired in spectacular fashion and furthermore we’ve had serious injury issues with Niko Kranjcar and Jordan Rossiter. Squad players like Gilks and Hodson were never going to be remarkable & our late signing of Senderos looks to have been seriously misjudged and desperate. He hasn’t even made the bench recently.

On the flip side Hill has cemented his place as our best centre-half after a shaky start to his Rangers career and Josh Windass appears to have lots of potential and plenty to offer.

The jury is still out on Joe Garner who has been somewhat starved of service at times but he may still turn it around and prove to be a worthwhile signing. Perhaps if strengthening other areas of the pitch hadn’t been such a priority Garner wouldn’t be so much under the spotlight.

Finances

While this season may be all about finishing second, and let’s not pretend otherwise, going forward we must overtake Celtic.

Thus let’s examine the finances based on season 2015/16 in which Rangers reached the Scottish Cup final and in which Celtic qualified for the Europa League Group Stages.

Turnover: Rangers - £22.2m ; Celtic - £52.0m

Celtic obviously benefit from Europa League income, something which we won’t receive until next season at the very earliest. That extra income however will play a large part in helping us close the gap financially, providing we qualify for at least the group stages. Our match-day income is also expected to rise by £3m+ this year due to the 20% increase on ticket prices for our return to the Premiership.

Celtic, according to their segmental reporting, make £4.8m profit from their merchandising turnover of £12.6m. Rangers of course make virtually nothing courtesy of Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct. So every year for the foreseeable future Celtic will have an extra £4-5m than Rangers purely from merchandising and retail. It’s like fighting with one arm tied behind your back and any critics of our business plan must take this commercial disadvantage into consideration.

Team costs

Rangers' first-team costs have risen from £6.4m in the Championship to £10.3m in the Premiership, a 60% increase.

However a recent report by Sporting Intelligence indicated that, despite Rangers’ increased spend, Celtic’s squad costs perhaps unsurprisingly are still more than double. Their average first-team salary is £718k per year compared to Rangers’ £317k.

Player trading

Celtic of course also benefit from having an established Premiership squad, one which has been improved under the guidance of Brendan Rodgers. This holds value.

Celtic have also previously earned significant income from player trading in recent years with the sales of:

Van Dijk - £11.5m (2015)
Forster - £10.0m (2014)
Wanyama - £12.0m (2013)

In their current squad they have Moussa Dembele as a very sellable asset and possibly the likes of Sinclair and Tierney also at a lesser level.

Rangers aren’t so fortunate. While the value of the Rangers squad has increased in the last 18 months it has no player that is likely to be sold for that kind of money, or even close to it.

Again this is a gulf that we must endeavour to close, one perhaps made more challenging by Frank McParland and Mark Warburton’s desire to shop in England almost every time we need a player.

So with it clear that there is a financial gap and a gulf on the pitch the focus must now turn inwards to Rangers and how the board plan to restore our club to where it belongs.

Questions for the board

Investment

• At 30 June 2016 the club received loans from shareholders of £10.025m with a further £2.9m received in October 2016. Will these loans be converted to equity and, if so, at what price?
• Broadly speaking how much funding do the board envisage is required in the next 12 months and over the next 3 years? Who will provide this funding?
• In the interest of transparency fans were promised, how much of the funding to date has been provided by Mr King?
• Why have Club1872 not been invited to provide funds alongside existing investors? Will they be asked to do so going forward?
• Given that £5m of the £13m of funding received by October 2016 was used to repay Sports Direct, have we really seen “over-investment”?
• Has the plan of “over-investment” changed? Are we instead looking to slowly build a sustainable model?
• What are the short, medium and long term plans to dominate Scottish football and again compete in European competition?

Revenue

• Match-day income is arguably saturated with a packed stadium and a price-increase in the summer. Retail income is non-existent. How do the board plan to drive revenues going forward?
• Sponsorship, advertising and commercial incomes have remained disappointingly stagnant. Why have these areas not seen improvement in the last 12 months under the new board and what is the plan to improve them going forward?
• What steps have been taken to grow the brand and would the board agree that the way our PR is handled occasionally damages such reputations?

Squad

• Squad costs increased 60% this season. Given our current position do we need to increase our budget further and, if so, by how much? If not, how do we compete?
• Summer recruitment appeared inconsistent and untimely. Is there any specific recruitment policy in place at the club?

Football operations

• Has relying solely on Frank McParland over an extensive scouting system in the short-term backfired?
• Do the board plan on giving Mark Warburton any substantial funds in January or in the summer transfer windows?
• Do we have a youth set-up capable of producing young, top-class talent? If not, what is the plan to achieve this?


The above should not read wholly as a rambling criticism of the Rangers board or management team, for that quite simply is not the intention.

For what it is worth, the board have generally done a remarkable job and the full-houses at Ibrox are evidence of that. Most fans will dread to think where we might now be if left under the control of the previous dysfunctional regime but we cannot hide from the fact that the club now requires huge investment and a rebuild of almost all operations. We need to make sure we have the cash available to do so and skills to execute the changes we need.

We must therefore hold each and every board to account and that is why AGMs are important, especially at Rangers. We must never rest on our laurels or accept mediocrity. We must always strive to be better and in that sense, Rangers fans can comfortably feel that they have done their part. Season tickets, share purchases, fan-group donations and Rangers Lotto are among the endless ways we spend our hard-earned cash on the club we love.

As such, there’s absolutely no harm in wanting the club and company to do the best they can, not only bringing success on the park but also becoming a professionally run club that will never return to the dark days of 2012.

Hence, it is our duty to ask questions of our custodians and seek the answers we deserve. It’s time for more than empty rhetoric.

Over to you, gentlemen. First is everything, second is nothing!

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