‘Ashley’s way or high­way’ as King steps up Ibrox pres­sure

New­cas­tle United Sup­port­ers Trust board mem­ber doubts Rangers can over­turn Sports Di­rect con­tract

The Herald - Sport - - FOOTBALL - MATTHEW LIND­SAY

RANGERS were last night warned they have vir­tu­ally no chance of reach­ing an am­i­ca­ble agree­ment with Mike Ashley and Sports Di­rect over their “oner­ous” seven-year mer­chan­dis­ing con­tract.

Dave King, the Rangers chair­man, is­sued a strongly worded state­ment fol­low­ing a board meet­ing at Ibrox on Tues­day ac­cus­ing Sports Di­rect of “poor busi­ness prac­tices” and “cor­po­rate gov­er­nance fail­ures”.

King, who as­sumed con­trol at the Cham­pi­onship club fol­low­ing the EGM he req­ui­si­tioned back in March, also vowed the sports goods com­pany will be “held ac­count­able le­gally and fi­nan­cially”.

The pre­vi­ous regime at Ibrox agreed to a long-term deal which the Rangers Sup­port­ers Trust has cal­cu­lated nets the Glas­gow club only 75p for ev­ery £10 which is spent.

That sit­u­a­tion has led to wide­spread un­hap­pi­ness among the Rangers sup­port and to large num­bers of dis­grun­tled fans re­fus­ing to buy replica jer­seys and of­fi­cial club prod­ucts.

King and his as­so­ci­ates have been un­able to ar­rive at a com­pro­mise with Sports Di­rect – de­spite vow­ing to greatly in­crease the num­ber of strips the na­tion­wide chain of stores sells if they do – at a se­ries of meet­ings since seiz­ing power.

Michael Martin, a board mem­ber at the New­cas­tle United Sup­port­ers Trust and the editor of the True Faith fanzine, is highly doubt­ful Rangers will be able to ne­go­ti­ate with the enigmatic bil­lion­aire in the fu­ture.

“I des­per­ately hope that Rangers sup­port­ers get a hold of their club and get to run it the way they want to run it,” said Martin. “But I would be stag­gered if Rangers made any head­way in chang­ing the deal.

“You would think that he (Ashley) would want to keep sup­port­ers on­side so they buy his prod­ucts. He isn’t even in­ter­ested in keep­ing his own share­hold­ers at Sports Di­rect on­side. That is his char­ac­ter. His pol­icy seems to be ‘my way or the high­way’.

“I think it will come down to who­ever blinks first with the le­gal bills; Sports Di­rect or Rangers. But he has got un­lim­ited funds to fight those ac­tions whereas Rangers are des­per­ate for com­mer­cial in­come so they can com­pete with Celtic again.

“The thing is, for the amount of money in­volved at Rangers, it is quite small in the scale of his for­tune. This guy is mak­ing his money out of sport, but seems to hate the na­ture of it.”

An al­most iden­ti­cal sit­u­a­tion ex­ists at New­cas­tle United, the strug­gling English Pre­mier League club which Ashley owns, to the one at Rangers.

New­cas­tle sup­port­ers are deeply un­happy with the terms of a com­mer­cial deal about which few de­tails are known pub­licly and are re­fus­ing to en­dorse of­fi­cial club mer­chan­dise in the same high num­bers as they did in the past.

“Dur­ing Ashley’s ten­ure as New­cas­tle owner our com­mer­cial in­come has fallen year on year,” said Martin. “It has risen in the last cou­ple of years be­cause of the con­tro­ver­sial shirt spon­sor­ship deal he has done with Wonga.com. But that has sub­se­quently led to a huge drop in the amount of mer­chan­dise they sell.

“I have been go­ing to St James’ Park more times than I care to men­tion and I live on Ty­ne­side. Ten years ago, ev­ery third per­son had a New­cas­tle United strip on. Now they’re not so pop­u­lar. I would put that down to the deal with Wonga.com.

“In terms of the mer­chan­dis­ing, there is an on­line deal with a com­pany which has been set up called NUFCDirect.com. That is run from Shire­brook where Sports Di­rect’s head­quar­ters are. Be­cause New­cas­tle United isn’t a pub­lic lim­ited com­pany we can’t re­ally find out who gets what.

“We are shy of de­tail on that. The man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, Lee Charnley, has said that it’s a great deal for New­cas­tle. But he would say that wouldn’t he?”

Martin added: “St James’ Park is ab­so­lutely plas­tered with Sports Di­rect ad­ver­tis­ing. It is all over the train­ing ground as well. Any­where there might be a pho­to­graph or a cam­era rolling.

“For all of that, New­cas­tle United gets the princely sum of ab­so­lutely noth­ing. He gets free ad­ver­tis­ing across the coun­try, pos­si­bly across the world be­cause the Pre­mier League is the most watched league in the world.

“It has to be noted that he does have quite a large (£129 mil­lion) loan to New­cas­tle which is in­ter­est free. The club claim that the free ad­ver­tis­ing he gets is off­set by the lack of in­ter­est pay­ments. But that isn’t the act of some­body who wants to build up a foot­ball club is it?”

The wide­spread dis­il­lu­sion­ment with how New­cas­tle is be­ing run and the fall­ing rev­enue from mer­chan­dis­ing hasn’t, how­ever, re­sulted in Ashley or Sports Di­rect amend­ing their busi­ness plan or act­ing with trans­parency.

“We are bang­ing our heads against a brick wall,” said Martin. “The New­cas­tle United Sup­port­ers Trust is one of the few mem­bers-only fan groups. It is very well or­gan­ised and very well con­nected.

“The rea­son why he is hang­ing on to the club is be­cause of the TV deals. The value of New­cas­tle United in­creases ev­ery time one of th­ese deals is struck. He has got an as­set that is ap­pre­ci­at­ing in value. All he needs to do is keep it in the Pre­mier League.

“He wants play­ers to come into the club who can be given a pol­ish, put in the shop win­dow and sold. That seems to be the pol­icy. There isn’t a man­ager. There is just a guy who trains the play­ers as they come in and go out. To all in­tents and pur­poses it isn’t a foot­ball club.

“Rangers are in a bet­ter po­si­tion than New­cas­tle be­cause he doesn’t have con­trol and he can be fought.”

This guy is mak­ing his money out of sport, but seems to hate the na­ture of it

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