Rangers fans call for Mike Ashley & club retail boycott

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland
Ibrox Stadium
Rangers made an operating loss of £8.3m for the 12-month period to 30 June 2014

A Rangers supporters' group has urged fans to stop buying club merchandise.

The Union of Fans (UoF) spoke out after analysing Rangers International Football Club plc annual results.

They are critical of the retail deal with Sports Direct, whose owner Mike Ashley holds almost 9% of RIFC shares.

The UoF said: "We urge fans to stop buying merchandise from club stores, which are now under Mr Ashley's full control or being shut down, and Sports Direct."

The UoF believe that the Sports Direct agreement compares unfavourably with a previous contract struck with the retailer JJB Sports.

The RIFC results revealed that losses of £8.3m were made in the 12 months to the end of June 2014, and that the auditors Deloitte warned of "material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt over the group's ability to continue as a going concern".

The RIFC directors revealed that funding of £8m will be required, through loans or equity, to ensure that the business continues to trade for the next 12 months, on the assumption that season ticket sales will return to around 38,000, despite around 15,000 fans refusing to renew last summer, and an increase in season ticket prices.

UoF, a coalition of Rangers supporters' groups, sought analysis of the accounts to look at the detail of the agreement between RIFC and Sports Direct, with the two companies having a stake in the joint vehicle Rangers Retail Ltd.

Mike Ashley
Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley has made £3m available to Rangers in the form of loans

Since Ashley increased his stake in RIFC, his long-time associate and former Newcastle United managing director, Derek Llambias, has joined the RIFC board as a non-executive director.

Sports Direct also gave up the naming rights to Ibrox that they purchased for £1 from former Rangers chief executive Charles Green, and consolidated "existing marketing arrangements between the parties and results in a more normalised retail joint venture marketing arrangement in which Sports Direct will continue to have certain advertising rights".

The UoF said in a statement: "Since the release of the accounts for RIFC PLC, the focus has been on the almost immediate requirement for more cash simply to pay bills and also the board's wish to raise £8m in equity finance despite recently turning down a valid, fully-funded offer for £16m.

"However, having had the accounts analysed by qualified accountants, we feel it is important to bring Rangers fans' attention to the reality of the retail deal which has been entered into with Mike Ashley's Sports Direct.

"David Somers [the Rangers chairman] stated recently that Rangers 'make quite a lot of money' from the Sports Direct deal, but that is not how the accounts read in our analysis. In fact, despite the loyalty of the Rangers fans seeing £7.6m spent on retail in the year covered by the accounts, the club's share of that spending is £590,000.

Union of Fans' statement
"In light of the information revealed in the accounts we urge fans to stop buying merchandise from club stores, which are now under Mr Ashley's full control or being shut down, and Sports Direct."

"That means for every £10 spent by Rangers fans on merchandise, the club receives only around 75p. The accounts also reveal that Rangers Retail has an obligation to purchase stock at a higher price than it is able to be sold at.

"In the second half of the year covered by the accounts, it appears that the portion of profit due to the club is £2,000.

"For comparative purposes, the much maligned JJB agreement, our previous retail deal, made the club a minimum of £4.8m a year over the term of the deal, over eight times the amount we are making from Sports Direct.

"Crucially, it is also not clear whether the club has yet received a penny of the £590,000 it is due or whether it is still retained within Rangers Retail. Indeed, from inception it would appear that the club has only received £100,000 in dividends from the venture with Sports Direct."

Rangers declined to comment.