Fan involvement - An alternative model

The recent deal to take Dunfermline Athletic out of administration, together with the earlier fan-ownership route which saw Portsmouth come out of administration, highlights the positives that fans can play in saving a football club. But is it a workable solution for Rangers?

The answer is ‘probably not’ as timing and the scale of the finance needed is a major factor in this situation possibly being unrealistic at Ibrox. The Pompey Supporters’ Trust raised £2,000,000 to buy their club when it was in administration, Dunfermline fans have raised £500,000. There was maybe an option when Rangers were in administration, when Charles Green’s consortium acquired the assets for £5.5 million, but today Rangers have a market valuation of £27 million, with 65.1 million shares in issue. Even to acquire a 10% shareholding, would require an investment of nearly £3 million.

Why was the opportunity missed? Possibly, the supporters were not organised enough. Possibly, there are too many fans groups all with diverse motives. For example, the Rangers Supporters Trust, an organisation whose aim is to acquire shares in Rangers, has 2,556 members. Each member would have to contribute over £1,000 each to acquire a 10% level and if share values increased, that would increase. A big ask.

The Rangers Supporters Assembly has a facebook page with 4,915 likes. Likes does not correspond to membership though and therefore any membership would be at a lower level. They do say, they ‘represent all Rangers’ fans’ which is clearly a factually incorrect statement, however well intentioned. I have been a Rangers fan for over 40 years and never received any communication from the RSA, so I have no idea whether they represent me or not, and vice versa.

The Union Bears have 7,290 members registered on their forum, an excellent achievement, and any revenues raised fund matchday displays which have added significantly to the matchday experience.

The purpose of this article is not to criticise these groups, all of whom contribute a lot, but to illustrate the diverse nature of the support. No one in recent years has yet achieved a unified support with one aim in mind.

Recent months have seen external investors vieing for positions on the board – some looking to make a fast buck, some with the club’s interests at heart. It is rare, though, that people buy shares in the role of Good Samaritan. They do it for investment purposes. It is a business investment where they invest to make a profit. They need Rangers to be a good business proposition. One that they perceive will increase in value as the club progresses through the divisions. One with untapped development potential.

There is nothing wrong with that. Recent history has shown that Rangers need to act with far more business sense than they have shown up until now. That is essential to continued growth and if the business is managed wisely (a big ‘if’) then everyone will benefit – the investors, the teams, the fans.

But the fans have shown how valuable they are to the club. Their response when the club was in trouble undoubtedly attracted investors who saw the advantage in having such a large and loyal fan base. It is in the club’s interest to keep these fans on board. To listen to them. To give them a voice.

I doubt that fan ownership is a realistic prospect for Rangers, given where we are now. If it is, I feel it will be on a small scale. I admit I am not a member or investor through the Rangers Supporters Trust. I invested directly in shares of the club as I am sure many others did.

That is why I believe the only way forward to increase the fans’ involvement in Rangers is through a club membership scheme. The club has the database to make this happen.

A Rangers’ Membership Club, organised by the club itself, could be a very strong body indeed. Last season there were 38,000 season ticket holders, this year 33,000 so far. Add in all the Rangers’ Supporters Club members. Add the supporters of the club worldwide. I believe this can be organised in a meaningful way.

My suggestion would be for Rangers themselves to create a Membership Club. Membership would automatically be given to all season ticket holders; automatically given to all supporters’ clubs and their members, subject to a clear registration process with members fully detailed and vouched for. Any other Rangers fans’ outwith these already covered could apply for a nominal fee initially.

The membership numbers could build up quickly. As an example, using that reliable source Wikipedia, Bayern Munich has 187,000 members and 3,202 fan clubs. The benefits of such a large membership should be clear to the club. It offers business opportunities as well as a means of communication to all fans.

Even after year one, an annual membership fee of, say, £5 would raise nearly £1 million if Bayern’s figures were used. Such an amount could be used to provide benefits or to acquire shareholdings on behalf of the fans. Funds raised could go to organise events with the fans.

The fans themselves within this Membership Club could elect a body to represent them. Democratically elected. Annually appointed or re-appointed. Each elected member only allowed to serve a maximum term (say 3 years) to avoid empire-building by individuals.

The club itself would undertake that that elected body would be given a representative on the Board of Directors. That individual could have a position of power if he speaks with the democratic authority of the fans, and effectively with the support of the combined shareholdings of the fans. Decisions are made by the Directors, that is where influence is important.

Rangers should take the initiative on this. It has been proven that the fans were influential in the saving of the club. Their continued support is of huge benefit to the club.

Richard Wilson, in Follow We Will, ended by saying the fans “need to be actively engage in how the business is operated. It is their club.”

They should be represented. It is the club’s responsibility as much as the fans

Arnold Black is a Chartered Accountant and lifelong Rangers supporter.

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