Announcing outstanding financial successes for Rangers PLC the then Chairman of the club opened his Chairman’s report in the annual financial statements with the following words:
“Last summer I explained that the Club, after many years of significant investment in our playing squad
and more recently in our state of the art facility at Murray Park, had embarked on a three year business
plan to stabilise and improve the Club’s finances. The plan also recognised the need to react to the
challenging economic conditions facing football clubs around the world.
Following a trend over a number of years of increasing year on year losses, I am pleased to report that
in the first year of this plan we have made important progress by reversing this trend. Our trading loss
for last year of £11.2m reflects a £7.9m improvement versus the £19.1m loss for the previous year and
although it will take more time to completely reach our goals, this is a key milestone. We also intend to
make significant further progress by the end of the current financial year. This improvement is the
consequence of having a solid strategy and the commitment and energy to implement the changes it requires”
Later on in the same statement the chairman would add:
“Another key part of our plan is associated with the Rangers brand and our Retail Division goes from strength to strength. Our financial results this year have been significantly enhanced by an outstanding performance in merchandising Rangers products, in particular replica kit, which makes our Retail Division one of the most successful in Europe.”
In the same set of financial reports, the CEO would report:
“To further strengthen Rangers hospitality portfolio, a new dedicated sponsor’s lounge was unveiled this season. The Carling Lounge is a first for the Club and was developed in conjunction with our new sponsor, Carling. ”
“Our innovative events programme continues to grow and this year saw a record number of official events including the highly successful annual Hall of Fame Awards Ceremony, Player of the Year and 50 Championships Gala Dinner, all of which catered for up to 1000 guests.
At Rangers, we continually develop our portfolio of products and as a key area of income for the Club, we evaluate the market for new revenue opportunities on an ongoing basis in order to exceed our existing and potential customer expectations and needs.
Demand for season tickets reached an all time high last season with a record 42,508 season ticket holders in comparison with the previous season`s figure of 40,320. Over 36,000 of these season ticket holders renewed for this season – a record number.
For the new season, we are delighted to welcome brewing giant, Carling on board as our Official Club sponsor. Carling is one of the UK’s leading consumer brands with a proven track record in football sponsorship.
The Club also continues to work with a number of multinational blue chip brands such as National Car Rental, Sony Playstation 2, Bank of Scotland and Coca-Cola. This year, we will also experience the evolution of the Honda deal via Hyndland Honda and welcome the mobile communications giant T-Mobile to our ranks.”.
The year was 2003 and in the previous 24 months Rangers Football Club, owned and operated as a private fiefdom by Sir David Murray, had made operational losses of some £30 million.
Yes – 30 MILLION POUNDS.
Of course the chairman’s report for 2003 was written by John F Mclelland CBE and the CEO was one Martin Bain Esq.
As Mr Mclelland clearly stated, by 2003 the club already had a trend of increasing year on year losses covering a number of years and was losing annual sums which stretched into millions, if not tens of millions, of pounds.
However, the acquisition of Rangers Football Club was absolutely vital to David Murray’s personal business growth, and his complete control of the club as his own private business key was more important than any other business decision he had made before buying Rangers or since.
When he persuaded Gavin Masterton to finance 100% of the purchase price of the club, Murray had his finest business moment.
By getting control of Rangers, Murray was able to offer entertainment, hospitality, seeming privilege and bestow favour on others in a way that was hitherto undreamed of, and he bestowed that largesse on any number of “existing and potential clients” and contacts – be they the clients and contacts related to Rangers Football Club or the existing and potential clients of David Murray, his businesses, his banks, or anyone in any field that he chose to court for the purposes of potential business.
It wasn’t only journalists who benefited from the succulent lamb treatment.
Accountants,lawyers, surveyors, broadcasters, football officials, people in industry and construction, utilities, financiers and other areas of business were all invited inside the sacred House of Murray and given access to the great man of business “and owner of Rangers” while attending the “record number of official (hospitality) events”.
Twelve months on from when John McLelland made those statements in the 2003 accounts, David Murray was back in the chair at Ibrox and he presented the 2004 financials.
In the intervening 12 months Rangers had gained an additional £10 million from Champions League income and had received £8.6 million in transfer fees from the sale of Messrs Ferguson, Amoruso and McCann. Not only that, the Rangers board had managed to reduce the club’s wage bill by £5 million. Taking all three figures together comes to some £23.6 million in extra income or savings.
Yet, the accounts for 2004 showed that the club made an operational loss of almost £6 million and overall debt had risen by an additional £7 million to £97.4 million.
However, the 2004 accounts were also interesting for another reason.
Rangers PLC had introduced payments “to employees trusts” into their accounts for the first time in 2001 and in that year they had paid £1million into those trusts. Just three years later, the trust payments recorded in the accounts had risen to £7.3 million per annum — or to put it another way to 25% of the annual wage bill though no one in Scottish Football asked any questions about that!
By the following year, the chairman announced that the 2004 operational loss had in fact been £10.4million but that the good news was that the 2005 operational loss was only £7.8 million. However Rangers were able to post a profit before taxation if they included the money obtained from transfers (£8.4 million) and the inclusion of an extraordinary profit of £14,999,999 made on buying back the shares of a subsidiary company for £1 which they had previously sold for £15 million.
All of which added up to a whopping great profit of ……… £12.4 million!
I will leave you to do the maths on 2005.
Oh and of course these accounts included the detail that 3000 Rangers fans had joined David Murray in participating in the November ’94 share issue where the club managed to raise £51,430,995 in fresh capital most of which was provided by Mr Murray… sorry I mean MIH ….. sorry that should read Bank of Scotland …… or their shareholders……. or should that be the public purse?
The notable items in the 2006 accounts included the announcement of a ten year deal with JJB Sports to take over the merchandising operation of the club and increased revenue from an extended run in the Champion’s League. However, the profit before tax was declared at only£0.1 million in comparison to the £12.4 million of the year before but then again that £12.4 million had included player sales of £8.4 million and the £15 million sweety bonus from the repurchase of ones own former subsidiary shares for £1.
Jumping to 2008 Rangers saw a record year in terms of turnover which had risen to £64.5 million which enabled the company to record a profit on ordinary activities before taxation of £6.57 million although it should be pointed out that wages and bonuses were up at 77% of turnover and that a big factor in the Rangers income stream was corporate hospitality and the top line of income was shown as “gate receipts and hospitality”.
However, 2009 saw a calamitous set of figures. Whilst Alastair Johnston tried to put a brave chairman’s face on it, the year saw an operating loss of £17.325 million which was softened only by player disposals leading to a loss before taxation of a mere £14.085 million.
Fortunately Sir David did not have to report these figures as he chose to stand down as chairman in August and so Johnston stepped in and announced that he was deeply honoured to do so.
In 2010, the income stream jumped from £39.7 million to over £56 million with the result that the club showed a profit before taxation of £4.209 million.
However, by that time the corporate hospitality ticket that was Rangers Football Club was done for as a result of matters that had nothing to do with events on the football field in the main.
First, the emergence of the Fergus McCann run Celtic had brought a real business and sporting challenge. This was something that Murray had not previously faced in the football business.
Second,the Bank of Scotland had gone bust and Lloyds could not and would not allow Murray to continually borrow vast sums of money on the basis of revalued assets and outrageous hospitality.
Third, the UEFA fair play rules came into being and demanded that clubs at least act on a semblance of proper corporate governance and fiscal propriety.
Lastly,Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs tightened up the law on the use of EBT’s which meant that Rangers could no longer afford to buy in the players that brought almost guaranteed success against domestic opposition.
On average, since 2002 Rangers PLC had lost between £7 million – £8 million per year – or roughly £650,000 per month if you like – yet for the better part of a decade David Murray had been able to persuade the Bank of Scotland that this was a business that was worthy of ever greater financial support or that he himself and his MIH business was of such value that the Banks should support him in supporting the Ibrox club whilst operating in this fashion.
Of course, had Murray’s Rangers paid tax on all player remunerations then the losses would have been far larger.
Meanwhile, all the other clubs in Scottish football who banked with the Bank of Scotland faced funding cuts and demands for repayment with the bank publicly proclaiming that it was overexposed to the football market in Scotland.
But no one asked any questions about why the bank should act one way with Murray’s club but another way with all others. No one in football, no one in the media and no one from the world of business.
Looking back,it is hard to imagine a business which has been run on such a consistent loss making basis being allowed to continue by either its owners or by its bankers. However, a successful and funded Rangers was so important to the Murray group that David Murray was clearly willing to lose millions year after year to keep the Gala dinners and corporate hospitality going.
Rangers were Murray’s big PR vehicle and the club was essentially used by him to open the doors which would allow him to make more money elsewhere on a personal basis and if it meant Rangers cutting every corner and accumulating massive losses, unsustainable losses, then so be it.
Today, the new regime at Ibrox run the current business in a way which clocks up the same colossal annual losses whilst the club competes outwith Scotland’s top division. Each day we hear that the wage bill is unsustainable, that the playing staff are overpaid, that the stadium needs massive investment and that the fans are opposed to the stadium itself being mortgaged and the club being in hawk to lenders.
Yet, in the Murray era the Stadium was revalued time and time again and its revaluation was used as the justification for ever greater borrowing on the Rangers accounts. The playing staff were massively overpaid and financially assisted by the EBT’s and most years the Chairman’s annual statement announced huge losses despite regular claims of record season ticket sales, record hospitality income, European income, shirt sponsorship and the outsourcing of all merchandising to JJB sports instead of Sports Direct.
The comparison between the old business and the current one is clear for all to see.
It should be noted, that since the days of Murray, no major banking institution has agreed to provide the Ibrox business with any banking facilities. Not under Whyte, not under Green, not under anyone.
Yet few ask why that should be.
The destruction of the old Rangers business led those in charge of Scottish football to announce that Armageddon was on the horizon if it had not actually arrived, yet today virtually all Scottish clubs are in a better financial and business state than back in the bad old days of the Bank of Scotland financed SPL. Some have succumbed to insolvency, and others have simply cut their cloth, changed their structure, sought, and in some cases attracted, new owners and moved on in terms of business.
In general, Scottish Football has cleaned house at club level.
Now, David Murray has “cleaned house” in that MIH has bitten the dust and walked down insolvency road.
What is interesting is that the Murray brand still has that capacity to get out a good PR message when it needs to. Despite the MIH pension fund being short of money for some inexplicable reason, last week it was announced that the family controlled Murray Estates had approached those in charge of MIH and had agreed to buy some key MIH assets for something in the region of £13.9 million.
The assets concerned are land banks which at some point will be zoned for planning and which will undoubtedly bring the Murray family considerable profit in the future, with some of those assets already looking as if they will produce a return sooner rather than later.
However, what is not commented upon in the mainstream press is the fact that Murray Estates had the ability to pay £13.9 Million for anything at all and that having that amount of money to spend the Murray camp has chosen not to buy any football club down Govan way.
Perhaps, it has been realised that a football club which loses millions of pounds each year is not such a shrewd investment and that the Murray family money would be better spent elsewhere?
Perhaps, it has been realised that the culture of wining, dining, partying and entertaining to the most lavish and extravagant extent will not result in the banks opening their vaults any more?
Perhaps, it has been realised that the Rangers brand has been so badly damaged over the years that it is no longer the key to the golden door in terms of business, finance and banking and that running a football club in 2015 involves a discipline and a set of skills that David Murray and his team do not have experience of?
What is clear, is that the Murray years at Ibrox were not good for the average Rangers fan in the long term and that when you have a football club – any football club – being run for the private benefit of one rich individual, or group of individuals, then the feelings and passions of the ordinary fan will as often as not be forgotten when that individual or his group choose to move on once they have decided that they no longer wish to play with their toy football club.
David Murray did not make money directly out of Rangers Football Club. He used it as a key to open other doors for him and to get him a seat at other tables and into a different type of “club” altogether. He did not run the club in a day to day fashion that was designed to bring stability and prolonged financial, or playing, success to the club. its investors and its fans. He did not preside over Ibrox during a period of sustained financial gain.
Mike Ashley will not subsidise 2015 version of Rangers to anything like the same extent that the Bank of Scotland did in the 90’s and naughties.
However, Ashley, like Murray, will use his control of the Rangers brand to open doors for him elsewhere in the sports retail market, and he will use the Rangers contract with Sports Direct to make a handsome profit. He will also control all the advertising revenue just as he does at Newcastle. In short, Mr Ashley is only interested in The Rangers with a view to using it as a stepping stone to achieve other things elsewhere.
However, don’t take my word for any of this, take the opinion of someone who knows.
Mr Dave King is quoted today as saying the following about the current board of Directors who are in charge of the current Ibrox holding company.
“History will judge this board as one of the worst the club has ever had. There is not one individual who puts the club above personal interest.”
That is an interesting observation from a man who became a non executive director of the old Rangers holding company in 2000 and who had a front row pew for every set of accounts and all the financial statements referred to above.
Whether or not Mr King is a glib and shameless liar is a matter of South African judicial opinion. Whether or not he can spot someone who puts their own self interest ahead of the interests of Rangers Football Club and the supporters of the club is a matter that should be discussed over some fine wine, some succulent lamb and whatever postprandial entertainment you care to imagine.
I wonder if he has ever read the accounts of Rangers PLC and compared them to the corresponding accounts of MIH for the same period?