A Rangers membership scheme and the Portugese model
19 June 2013 10:14
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There has been revived chat recently about a possible membership scheme at the club. Ideally, I’d like the club to be owned and managed entirely by its members. Personally I regard a membership scheme as a halfway house towards full fan ownership of the club - it would grow both in numbers and responsibility and fans would realise their power. One day we may get there, in the meantime . . . I don’t intend to argue in this article that the Portugese have all the answers - the financial crisis in some of their clubs is vast and not all are related to the 1997 change in the law that forced them to adopt many of the characteristics of limited companies. Bad business is as likely to be conducted by companies as by clubs unless the members use their powers wisely. Instead I think we should look at what has been happening in the “Great Three” Portugese clubs and see if we can adapt some of their ideas to Scottish conditions. For British fans the Portuguese model holds both attractions and pitfalls. On the one hand the fans in theory own and control the clubs - but in practice many are controlled by strong Presidents surrounded by a self-perpetuating oligarchy because the general body of the support does not take the opportunities to exercise their voting strength. Several large clubs have burdened themselves with huge debts in the pursuit of success. It’s generally accepted that Porto took the lead in modernising and promoting “socio” membership about ten years ago in order to maximise income and actually derive benefit from the latent support the club had but which never mobilised. Portugese migrations - most noticeably in the 1950s and again in the 80s/90s mean there are millions of Portuguese football fans around the world - and that’s before factoring in that Brazil is Portugese-speaking, the former Portugese colonies and the general interest in Portugese football in generated in the Figo years. There are around 40 million Brazilians with Portugese ancestry of whom 1.2million were born in Portugal, altogether it is reckoned 4 million Portugese have migrated to the rest of the world since the 1950s. Porto began marketing themselves very aggressively - if you couldn’t attend matches you could still become a socio member and support the club that way - getting discounts on merchandise and having a vote in the elections. Despite being the smallest of the Great Three their socio memberships overtook the other two and are roughly in the 80,000 area. Sporting and Benfica responded and adopted the same approach - both had fans throughout the country and abroad who would rarely attend games but with Benfica, for instance, having an estimated 6 million fans inside Portugal and 14 million worldwide the potential was huge. In 2009 Sporting reported they had broken the 100,000 socio barrier and last season Benfica claimed 256,000. Even Braga has 26,000. The socio structure can be very complicated depending on the cost and the length of membership - at Benfica membership starts at 56 Euros. At Sporting you get additional votes the longer you remain a member - if you had been a member for 25 years you could get five votes in the Presidential elections. Discounts are available on season tickets and merchandise for socios. APPLYING THE PORTUGUESE EXPERIENCE TO RANGERS It will be difficult but not impossible. Fans are war weary and skeptical after the events of the last few years. Additionally, such a socio scheme will be new in the UK where most clubs have long been limited companies and fans treated as customers rather than genuine members. Reversing that mindset will not be easy. THE FUNDING GAP AND REPLACING THE BENEFACTOR MODEL Over the 20 years or so of David Murray’s reign roughly £100m of new capital was injected into the club via Murray himself, Joe Lewis and Dave King. Historically the club runs at around £5million more than it brings in. A membership scheme can help to fill that gap. It is estimated worldwide there are some 5 million nominal Rangers fans that the club find very difficult to monetize. By offering a membership scheme which is almost entirely Internet based in terms of delivery we can reach those fans and bring in meaningful revenues. WHAT COULD BE OFFERED IN THE RANGERS MEMBERSHIP SCHEME? Rangers now have both product and the means to distribute it cheaply over the net. For instance - www.RangersTV.tv can broadcast live matches overseas and highlights in the UK as well as normal news items, features etc. We could therefore tailor a package which offers the following:- Access to Rangers TV. PDF copy of the match programme half an hour before each home game. Bespoke email address for members. Membership certificate and card. Bespoke website with exclusive content separate from www.Rangers.co.uk - in a similar vein to fansFCBarcelona.com Management of elections - if a non-Exec director was to be appointed to represent the socios then the process could be managed on the web. VITAL IT’S LAUNCHED AT THE RIGHT TIME AND THE RIGHT SPIRIT Manchester United has a Membership Scheme which Martin Bain wanted to adapt to Ibrox. Of course it would have been “membership” in name only - you’d get no vote and any ‘privileges of membership’ would be either illusionary or vastly overpriced. In short it would have been a scam to get an additional £15 or so out of you for the ‘right’ to buy a ticket. For a membership scheme to work at Ibrox it needs to be genuine - real returns - real power in terms of representation. Otherwise people will not bite. We also need to factor in the lessons of the recent past - Rangers only have around 5,600 shareholders and we couldn’t get 50,000 signed up for the petition ref HMRC. It is vital any such scheme is seen to be genuine and it has to be launched when the support is on a high - either entering the SPL or the season after our first title win in the top flight. WHAT ABOUT EXISTING SEASON TICKET HOLDERS? I’m of the view they are the bedrock of the support and should be counted as members in terms of voting. But as they already get something for their money - match entrance - then their fee should be reduced if they wish access to other club services REVENUES AND COSTS I would target 50,000 members at the psychological price of £99. As much of the proposed package is already pre-produced by the club – Rangers TV, match programme, etc - then production and servicing costs are highly scalable.