Champions League exposure for Sports Direct?
One which makes no sense at all is that Ashley would be willing to sacrifice Newcastle United and the English Premier League to expose his cheap sports goods in that great league of leagues, the Champions League. This would be once Rangers get through the small formalities of getting promoted back to the Scottish Premiership and then beating Celtic to win the Scottish Premiership title. This one is a complete non-starter though as there are two crucial things the proponents of this hypothesis have overlooked.
1. As both Newcastle United and Rangers fans should know from previous European competition, Rangers or any other side are only allowed to display advertising for their shirt sponsors and kit sponsors. There could be no pitch side hoardings or anything else emblazoned with cheap Ashley brands like Sports Direct, Firetrap and all the rest. Only UEFA sponsorship partners are allowed to advertise in both the Europa and Champions League competitions.
2. The first point doesn’t really need any reinforcement with a second one but I’ll do it anyway. Rangers have played a total of 104 games in the Champions League. That sounds like alot, however that is in over 22 years as the European Cup was remodelled as the Champions League in 1992/93. It’s an average of around 5 games per season, and less than 2.5 home games.
Champions League money?
We can also say that the money Ashley will make in the Scottish Premier League, especially from broadcasting, will be much smaller than it is south of the border. If it wasn’t for the Champions League, Celtic would have a lower turnover than Newcastle United did when it was in the Championship. In short, the Scottish Premiership is like the English League One with one much bigger team like Leicester City at the very top.
On the surface at least, Champions League competition money rather than advertising opportunities which don’t exist seemingly offers a better reason. Rangers’ old enemy, Celtic, made £23.3 million from the Champions League in prize money, bonuses and TV money last season. Overall they had a turnover of £64.74 million and a profit before tax of £11.17m (Celtic financial results). That’s roughly about half Newcastle’s latest turnover figure of £129.7 million. Celtic had a particularly good season though getting to the last 16, as much as a team with Celtic’s resources could ever hope for. This season they were knocked out by Maribor at the qualifying stages, which will take £10s millions from their turnover and put an entirely different complexion on their next set of figures. This year’s failure could wipe out all the profit they made in the previous season and more.
Two into one won’t go
There is also another huge obstacle. Due to Scottish clubs falling out of the UEFA’s top sixteen rankings, Scotland have had only have one team competing in the Champions League for the last two seasons, with the second only getting a place in the qualifiers of the far less lucrative Europa League. In the premier competition, a team can make £10-30 million (depending on whether the club is a Basle or a Manchester United) just for making the group stages. On the other hand, getting to the Europa League group stages, a competiton some say is more gruelling than the Champions League will only bring in around £2-3 million. Even winning the competition will almost certainly be less lucrative than merely competing in the group stages of the Champions League. After all, what did it do finacially for teams like Birmingham City, Fulham (who even made the final), or even Newcastle United? As you can see here, even making the quarter finals didn’t affect Newcastle United’s annual finances much.
On the other side, though the Scottish Premiership is much smaller than the English one in fianacial terms, the level of investment required to dominate Celtic would still be huge by Ashley’s penny pinching standards. Also, it might not be worth it. When the old Rangers was financially obliterated, so was the squad. Using football transfer website Transfermarkt as a very rough guide, their squad is currently estimated to be worth about £5.8 million and the club still had to sell one of their very best players (Lewis McCleod to Brentford) for a million just to keep the lights on at Ibrox recently. According to the same site, Celtic’s is currently estimated to be worth around ten times that at £50.14 million. This is almost as much as the other 11 sides of the Scottish Premiership put together (£62.48 million). This means that just to compete with Celtic on a level playing field would require almost £50 million investment. To be sure of crushing them for the Scottish title most years would require far more still, maybe £100 million+. Even then Rangers would only get qualifying games in the Champions League with no guarantee of the lucrative group stage action. Newcastle United fans who can remember the club’s catastrophic Champions League qualifying games against Partian Belgrade in 2003 will know something about this. The Magpies lost many millions in one penalty shoot out and it was a game which ushered in a period of decline from which they still haven’t recovered. To a pure ‘breadhead’ like Ashley who has no interest in cup glory at a price, it probably wouldn’t be worth it.
Indeed, Ashley has shown already that a spending war for the potential of cup glory is not his style at all. Profit figures are his trophies. Seven years experience with Newcastle United has taught us that he sees no point whatsoever in competing for the Champions League, Europa League, FA or League Cups, with Premier League survival and the buying and selling of players at a profit being the the club’s primary ambitions. Even the club itself has conceeded their lack of ambition in cup competitions.
Going by experience of Ashley’s ownership of Newcastle, apart from promoting Sports Direct worldwide, which he can’t do from Scotland, Ashley’s primary interest has been buying up cheap players below the age of 26 and selling them on later for maximum profit. My own personal hypothesis, which I wrote on in a previous piece, was that Ashley’s real intentions was to build a selling club network like Giampaolo Pozzo’s Udinese. Granada and Watford. In this scenario, Rangers would be used as a development club for younger players, with a huge amount of young colts going up and down between Ashley’s footballer stables in Newcastle and Glasgow. That was another blog though.
Getting back to this one, with new figures about to be announced showing that Ashley has made a bumper profit from Newcastle United based on increased broadcasting revenue and player sales, I really don’t think Ashley will be going anywhere soon.