Last Summer I spoke with James Bisgrove regarding the commercial situation at Rangers. You can find that link here https://fourladshadadream.blog/2021/06/14/james-bisgrove-interview-the-multi-million-pound-man-revolutionising-rangers-commercially/.
Our support has changed due to recent events at the club and there is far more scrutiny on the club with things like the commercial side including income and events etc. That is a good thing because as a support we should always take a keen interest but as a club we have embraced that and allowed access to be possible.
I approached the club at the end of last year to ask if James was available again to further discuss the commercial side of things at Rangers. Mainly prompted by our AGM and what James said I was keen to ask him further questions. Rangers were very accommodating and James once again took the time to answer and talk us through all the latest commercial news.
Q: At the AGM you spoke of £13m commercial income for the year, can we discuss this and break down the figures involved?
JB: Absolutely. At the AGM I outlined how, this season, we’re focused on reaching a commercial revenue target of £27.9m, which would set a new benchmark for commercial revenue at Rangers (recent seasons have generated commercial revenues of £8-£15m across the same areas).
One of the reasons we’re able to make this leap is due to the backing and investment of our Chairman (Douglas Park), Vice Chairman (John Bennett) and the rest of the RIFC board, which has been consistently strong since I joined the club in 2019. We’re now beginning to reap the rewards of their investment in our digital infrastructure and people, in tandem with the club’s clear shift to the ‘growth phase’ of our overarching business strategy.
Our clear objective, as a Commercial & Marketing department, is to continually accelerate all our commercial revenue pillars and this is underpinned by our 2021-2024 overarching club-wide strategy. In parallel, we’re constantly seeking to grow the clubs fan base and deepen the engagement with our existing supporters, be that by enhancing the match day experience at Ibrox, or through various digital and data touch points.
The club’s strategy is built upon a ‘one club’ ethos, whereby all the key pillars, from Football to Commercial to Operations, are joined-up in their thinking & respective activities and remainaligned to the same long-term vision.
This is where we as an Executive board are closely aligned and united in our approach, under Stewart Robertson’s leadership.
Coming back to the commercial revenue progress, we passed £21m revenue at the halfway point of the season (December 2021), so I feel we’re in a good place to reach the £27.9m target, despite recent renewed COVID related disruptions to someaspects of our operations.
For context, the £27.9m number excludes all ticketing (season tickets and match day ticketing) and is comprised from thefollowing core pillars:
• Commercial Partnerships
• Corporate Sales
• VIP Hospitality
• Retail (Castore)
• International & Domestic Soccer Academies
• Digital Media
• MyGers Membership
• Club Events
• Stadium Tours
• Official Product Licensing
I think everyone at the club recognises the unprecedented growth in commercial revenue is largely thanks to the phenomenal backing we receive from Rangers supporters.
The growth we’ve enjoyed in the sale of club products, be that RangersTV subscriptions, MyGers memberships, Edmiston House packages, Retail products or VIP Hospitality etc, is remarkable.
Q: You spoke of your intention, or hope, that the commercial income could be doubled in this next year, that’s a massive jump and one which obviously caught attention. How is this possible and how will we achieve this?
JB: The trajectory of revenue growth has been underpinned by a range of factors, but the two biggest influencers are the backing of Rangers supporters and the quality of our people, both in senior management positions and right across the Football club.
As I mentioned previously, the support the club receives from the fan base is truly unique (and comes from all corners of the globe), and we constantly recognise how privileged we are to have such backing and loyalty across the board.
The other factor, for me, is the internal team of people we have now assembled to execute our strategy.
The strategic & operational relationship between the Football & Commercial team is now incredibly strong and in large part thanks to Ross Wilson’s ‘one club’ ethos and the working relationship we’ve developed. I think there was a period where these areas operated as their own islands, which is no longer the case. We also work in close cohesion with David Graham, (Communications Director) and he and I talk every day, his Comms team are critical to everything we do across all the Commercial & Marketing functions and ensuring the activities remained joined up across the club and in line with our wider media & comms strategy.
A lot of foundations were put in place prior to COVID hitting, and we continued to move forward and prepare for ‘business normality’ in this period, which is now, in part, fuelling the growth we’re enjoying.
The individuals we have leading the key business units are high calibre, modern, ambitious professionals, who are working cohesively across all aspects of the club to move us forward every day.
I am sure both Ross Wilson and the Manager will place the same value on the people at all levels of the Football department, both players on the pitch and the crucial support staff.
For example, Scott Williams (Head of Commercial Partnerships) has been at the heart of our commercial partnership sales growth. We’ve also recently hired Oliver Pfeiffer (Head of Partnership Management), whose background was Umbro and Manchester City, to manage the commercial partner portfolio.
Natalie Nairn (Head of Events & Retail) has been responsible for the growth of the MyGers membership programme (now at 37,000 members), the Castore kit & retail partnership and the Clubs 150th anniversary season events calendar, with her team. Charlene Shore-Henderson (Head of Marketing & Design) joined the club from adidas and has transformed the clubs brand strategy and brought our design resource in-house.
Across Digital Media, both Robert Boyle (Head of Digital Content) and David Melvin (Head of Broadcast & Production), have led our digital transformation and overseen a sizeable growth in social media engagement and RangersTV subscriptions.
Pippa Dickson (Head of Corporate Hospitality) and Gary Gibson (Head of Soccer Academies & International Relations) have driven continued growth in their respective areas and have assembled brilliant teams of people.
More recently, we’ve brought on board David Milburn (Customer Service Manager), who will work closely with Greg Marshall (Supporter Liaison Officer) and the team at the Ticket Centre, led by Susan Hannah (Head of Ticketing Operations), alongside Dave Pyatt (General Manager – New Edmiston House), both David and Dave have hugely exciting but challenging briefs.
Dave was instrumental in Ibrox securing its first concert in nearly 20 years, with Harry Styles launching his global tour at our stadium in June 2022.
Q: (Follow on to 2) With that expected commercial jump, can we as fans look forward to some new deals and is that now possible in terms of next stage deals? (Bigger and more profitable than currently, perhaps stadium sponsorship?)
JB: In short, yes.
I’ve outlined previously that we won’t stop moving the club forward, and we have several significant commercial deals in the pipeline that will be announced during the course of this year.
We also want to be innovative and progressive in our approach and, where it makes sense, will look beyond traditional sponsorship deals to grow our revenues and meet some of our broader objectives. We feel this is critical to our commercial success, especially given the SPFL market context in which we operate.
This is why we’ve agreed the Harry Styles concert, opened a Soccer Academy in Abu Dhabi, bought the broadcast rights in India, whilst investing in RangersTV and are building new Edmiston House – to name a few examples.
In terms of naming rights, I think this can take different forms and we might be prepared look at opportunities around The Training Centre and New Edmiston House. I think we should keep an open mind and for the right brand and right investment level, it’s something I would be prepared to take to the club’s board for consideration but only if its right for Rangers.
Q: Castore. Income from Castore this year was around £4m and this was met with criticism from the support. How is this figure judged by you and the club? Castore spoke of income potentially of £5m, (or potentially as high as £6-8m in a ‘good year) so how can we get there for the club? (In a hugely successful championship season, if we can’t get there now, will we ever?)
JB: We all know the history of the kit and retail situation and I spoke at the AGM with great positivity about the Castore partnership and outlined how the deal has transformed our kit and retail operations, in a short space of time.
The backing we receive from Castore, whose business is going from strength to strength, has been phenomenal. I speak with and meet the founders regularly and the relationship incredibly strong.
The first year of the partnership had some fantastic highs but also threw up some challenges; Rangers Stores were closed more than they were allowed to open!
The revenues generated, both through the partnership fee and sales royalties, have returned this commercial revenue stream to the level a club of Rangers stature should expect and are higher than the figure you referred to.
I’m aware of the figures referred to by Castore, and we absolutely share these aspirations.
Q: Is there scope for Rangers to go to the market and shop for a better deal instead of Castore? Or are we tied to Castore for the entirety of the deal? Would you consider this?
JB: As with any commercial partnership in football, when the time is right, I’d like to think we would sit around the table with Castore and discuss the prospect of a renewed deal, with the backdrop of a huge amount of shared success.
Equally, if and when Rangers go back to the market, we will look completely different compared to 2020, given the history, and I would expect Rangers kit and retail rights to be in high demand.
Q: On the current deals, we now have around 45 commercial partners. Again there has been comments from supporters we may be selling ourselves short and taking anyone. We are a critical support, but how would you respond to those comments?
JB: The Commercial Partner portfolio has grown from less than 10 to over 40 commercial partners since 2019. In revenue terms, that has quadrupled commercial partner revenue to £8m a year (excluding revenues from the Castore retail deal).
We’ve achieved this by implementing a commercial concept with the learnings and experience I brought from the UEFA Champions League and due to the relationships our team have been able to develop.
Within our partnership portfolio we have a fantastically diverse group of international brands, from digital companies such as Fortrade, Bitci, Uber Eats, NordVPN & SportemonGo, all fromfast growing emerging tech sectors through to more traditional and established brands such as our insurance partner, Vitality, or our Global Logistics partner, SEKO.
We also have some fantastic British brands like Cadbury, Tennent’s, Utilita & Molton Brown also in the portfolio and are hugely grateful of the backing from clubs commercial partners, especially during the challenging moments of the pandemic.
Beyond the revenue growth, we now have a wide range of brands that are activating their Rangers partnership and reaching a broader audience in a number of different geographies.
Q: Edmiston house. How is that progressing and is it on target? When opened what possibilities for the club do you see?
JB: In my view, New Edmiston House is one of the most exciting projects in European football and certainly the most exciting I’ve had the privilege to be part of in my career.
The construction of the building itself is progressing well, as everyone that visits Ibrox can now see!
We’re on track to open the building towards the end of this calendar year, which will be a major milestone in our 150th anniversary year.
In terms of the possibilities, they are far and wide. The multi-purpose venue will offer supporters a plethora of different opportunities, from the match day fan zone to the club museum and two-floor retail store.
I’m probably most excited about the possibilities around music, especially with Dave Pyatt as our General Manager, given his experience and contacts. We’re aiming to organise between 100 – 150 concerts per year and for the venue to become a leading destination for artists in the UK.
At a commercial level, NEH represents a new revenue stream for the club, and we have high aspirations in what can be achieved as part of our long-term business model.
We’re also examining plans to convert the existing Rangers Store into a Sports Bar, which is another exciting project and further investment into the Ibrox stadium infrastructure and footprint.
Q: Finally, You spoke of a commercial income of £10m in our last interview, this has been exceeded and another milestone in your journey at Rangers. You are obviously ambitious, so what is the next steps for the club and what plans do you have both in your role and for Rangers?
JB: I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made and are making every day, but I think the best is yet to come and, in some areas, we’re only scratching the surface.
We’ve had incredible support from the RIFC board and our investor group and this provides us brilliant stability and a strong foundation from which to build.
Being frank, we can’t rely on the Premier League broadcast funding that similar UK clubs of our size enjoy south of the border, so we need to be competitive in other ways.
As our Managing Director, Stewart Robertson, has outlined before on the record, we’re concerned about the broadcast revenues generated via the SPFL and especially when you look at the values of the Old Firm matches in the context of the huge profile of these fixtures, and the global audiences they attract.
In the short to mid-term, we want to ensure we reach our revenue targets and transform the Ibrox match day experience, with the opening of New Edmiston House.
Qualifying for the UEFA Champions League, if and when we get there, will return Rangers to the pinnacle of European football and that’s where I believe a club of our stature belongs. This will accelerate our ability to deliver on our club objectives and position the Club closer to the ‘Tier 1’ within the European elite
We also need to continue to innovate, be digitally minded, data-led and be progressive in our approach.
The beauty about working for or supporting Rangers is the potential of this Football Club is unmatched.
* My thanks to David Graham, Rangers communications Director, for facilitating and organising this interview upon my request. As fan media Rangers don’t have to allow this access but when I approached them, with this request, they have been very accommodating and helpful. Also to James Bisgrove himself for taking his time to again speak with me and answer every question I had for him. Being able to have an insight into the club and directors is a brilliant thing for this platform and fan media. Thank you to both for their help and time *