Rangers

17 February 2023 - 4:28 PM

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Alamy | Rangers FC fans during the Europa League Final against Eintracht Frankfurt 18th May 2022.

Interview: Rangers increased commercial revenue 250 per cent since 2018 – and the growth journey continues

  • In the last four years, Rangers FC have outperformed most competitors in terms of commercial growth. Commercial and Marketing Director James Bisgrove continues to discover hidden pockets of growth - with non-matchday revenues being a focus area.
  • Rangers have seen great commercial success based on their global brand. Now their own digital TV channel is starting to show promising results, while a new multi-purpose venue and a new lounge at Ibrox both got off to a flying start.
  • Why it matters: Scottish football is way behind many other leagues in terms of broadcasting income, so Rangers FC need to secure substantial revenues from other pillars if they want to be part of the European elite in the future.
  • The perspective: Commercial growth in football is strongly connected to on-the-pitch success – but Rangers are proving that if you launch modern and innovative initiatives, you can drive large volumes of commercial revenue from the sporting results alone.

Weighing up the current state of the world economy, optimism might not seem the obvious response. The war in Ukraine, energy prices on the run, inflation, interest rates going up and recession a real threat for various countries and regions all over the world - all combined, it is not really the perfect cocktail for those with a real appetite for growth.

However, the director of commercial and marketing at Rangers FC, James Bisgrove, is not one of those business executives who leaves his house in the morning with a sour, pessimistic look on his face.

Rangers FC’s annual report released back in November proved once again that the team - one of Glasgow’s  biggest two - are not only growing their business at significant pace, but also looking with high hopes at the next few years. Despite the grim macroeconomic outlook, Bisgrove is convinced there are still plenty of opportunities for him and his team to identify various pockets of growth around the club, and around the world.

“My sense is that football is one of the more resilient industries to the wider economic pressures and cost of living crisis,” he says.

According to him, several tech-based industries appear to have a real appetite for going into football, while the club have also seen the tourism industry recover from COVID-19, and they are also keen to explore how they can benefit from being connected to one of the most famous football clubs in the UK.

Looking at the numbers, Rangers FC almost doubled revenues in their 2021/2022 accounts to €102.6 million. The impressive – and probably also surprising – run in the Europa League last year, where Glasgow Rangers went all the way to the final, definitely played a big part. But the drivers behind the revenue growth comprised much more than just the great European run. Looking at commercial revenue, Rangers FC saw a more than 90 per cent increase to €32.2 million.

Quite impressive – not least taking into account that they had commercial revenues of €1.2 million when promoted back to the Scottish Premiership in the spring of 2016, after being relegated to the Third Division in Scotland in 2012 due to financial issues.

However, the massive commercial growth doesn’t stop here, Bisgrove says.

‘’The annual growth from £8 million commercial revenue at the end of 2018 to just under £29m in 2022, across a consistent set of revenue pillars, further represents Rangers' return to financial health and profitability. 

“At the board level, we recognise commercial revenue as one of the four core pillars of our club strategy and business performance; alongside player trading, match-day revenues, primarily ticketing, and European prize money,’’ he says. 

Bisgrove doesn’t talk about successful European campaigns or winning several domestic titles, although he would obviously want that and believes in it. But for him the driver is something different which goes beyond constantly-improving sporting results.

He is focused on continually exploring how you can engage even more intensely – and more often – with your loyal supporters, while at the same time doing all you can to show all football fans globally that there is a special club in Scotland which has something to offer.

“We're constantly seeking to enhance our supporter engagement through different channels, whether content-led or the Ibrox match-day experience. Our engagement with international supporter groups, for example, in the Middle East, North America and Australia, is critical to ensuring the club sustains and grows its popularity worldwide,” he says, also making clear that they always try to be sensitive to the wider landscape “…and must strike a careful balance of optimising revenue generation, especially on match days, with taking advantage of supporters’ loyalty to the club.”

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Rangers FC | Director of commercial and marketing at Rangers FC, James Bisgrove, attending a match from the stands.

It's a delicate thing that club executives all over the world are trying to get right each day, but according to Bisgrove, there are still numerous things to do on the commercial side, for the club to be able to deliver relevant products and services to their loyal supporters, and the wider community, without crossing that fine line.

The last year at Rangers FC contained a few examples of what type of projects such things could be.

New Edmiston House is the name of the club’s new multi-purpose venue, situated opposite Ibrox stadium. The venue opened just three weeks ago and received a fantastic reaction. On match days, Rangers FC operate the venue as a fan zone, both pre-match and post-match, with 8,000 supporters having visited the fan zone at the last home fixture in the course of the day. The fan zone featured live entertainment including visits from the first team, fully-licensed bars, and activities for families.

“It’s a project we are hugely excited about and believe has vast potential to materially impact our commercial revenues moving forward. We’re projecting a seven-figure profit will be added to our overall revenues from the venue.”

Another great example could be the development they have seen with RangersTV.

“Within our digital media activities, RangersTV is our leading revenue driver under the umbrella of broadcast and production. We are currently defining the future strategy for our Club TV channel and are excited by the opportunities in this space. We’ve developed an extremely experienced and talented team in this area and are looking closely at projects such as Barcelona Studios, and AC Milan’s Media House as interesting case studies for the future strategy of RangersTV.”

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Rangers FC | Fans at the Edmiston House, Rangers' new multi-purpose venue, situated opposite Ibrox stadium.

Blue Sky Lounge was another major development at Ibrox and one they recently opened in December 2022. According to Bisgrove, it’s both a modern hospitality lounge and restaurant that offers panoramic pitch views of Ibrox.

“We invested considerably in the lounge fit-out and have worked hard with our executive chef team to develop a menu that matches enhancements to the lounge itself. The development allowed us to install 330 premium seats and, in addition, nearly 200 new general-admission seats, expanding the overall capacity of Ibrox.”

Since 2017, Rangers have almost doubled their match-day income to €50 million. In the same period, arch-rivals Celtic FC have seen their match-day income grow by 15 per cent.

“Hospitality on match days have sold out for all five fixtures since we’ve opened and we’ve accumulated a waiting list for seasonal hospitality places in Blue Sky Lounge, so the reaction from our corporate clients has been fantastic,” says Bisgrove.

Finally, it should also be mentioned that Rangers entered a joint venture with Levy last year. Levy is a company already known for skills in running the catering part of some of the leading football stadia and venues globally. The firm works with Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Leicester City and Aston Villa in the Premier League and the likes of the O2 Arena in London and OVO Hydro in Glasgow. 

“We strongly believe a shared and partnership approach to driving revenues and managing costs is the most successful way to run a commercially-effective stadia catering business.”

Bisgrove explains that it’s very different from their previous catering contract model and has already provided Rangers FC with a platform to improve operations and grow revenues in areas that were perhaps stagnating before.

“On a practical level, it means we share a P&L, work on an open-book basis, to build this part of the business together. There is a real emphasis on embracing new technologies and that probably comes from their experiences in US stadia,” he says.

Part of the Levy joint-venture deal should also be seen in the light of the big focus on driving revenues on non-matchday activities.

“The restaurant business for non-matchdays is equally exciting as the previous restaurant was part of an older catering deal that didn’t provide a direct commercial benefit to the club. The new partnership with Levy is a joint venture, and we now have a strong incentive to drive bookings and market the restaurant, which has resulted in a spike in covers since opening.”

Match-day income and season ticket revenues will always be Rangers’ lifeblood, according to Bisgrove, but he says the club also have to recognise they only fully utilise Ibrox for 25 days a year. “Therefore, we want to develop opportunities 300 days+ for non-match days, for example, the new Blue-Sky Lounge restaurant, our new sports bar development and, principally, Edmiston House, which will contain the club museum and a live events space,” he says and adds that the club remain confident there is still huge scope to grow their core commercial activities, such as commercial partnerships - especially where new sectors and opportunities emerge.

Some of the financial limitations domestically in Scotland have been well documented, and this, naturally, places an increased focus on the above pillars.

The winner of the SPFL Premiership receives around £3 million in prize money, from the corresponding SPFL broadcast and sponsorship deals, whereas the club finishing bottom of the Premier League will receive north of £100 million.

“The gulf is significant and not only in comparison to the Premier League; the gap in comparable European leagues - Portugal, Turkey, Sweden, Holland etc. - also exists. On the flip side, we're incredibly fortunate to have a globally-recognised brand and hugely loyal and worldwide fan base that is unique in football, both in its scale and the intensity of the following, in the most positive sense,” says Bisgrove.