IF, AS they say, there is no such thing as bad publicity, Rangers have been on to a good thing these last 12 months. While it would be stretching a point to describe their crisis as a global marketing campaign, the worldwide fascination with its every twist and turn has certainly raised the club’s international profile.
After an independent commission effectively declared last week that Rangers’ use of EBTs did not amount to cheating, the club hope that they can at last draw a line under the whole sorry debacle and somehow glean from it enough positives to approach the new era with confidence.
The process began with the announcement on Friday of a five-year kit deal with Puma, as well as a one-year sponsorship arrangement with Blackthorn, the cider manufacturer. As far as Ally McCoist, their manager, is concerned, the new partnerships show that Rangers have lost none of their commercial appeal.
In fact, he goes so far as to say that Puma and Blackthorn have more to gain from the agreement than Rangers. “As much as we are absolutely delighted to have them, I think it’s good business for them,” he says.
“What a story it is. We’ve had press guys from South America, Argentina, Spain, all over the place. It’s a global story now. We are, and will be, a top brand again.
“If I was sitting in Uruguay and the Rangers story came on Trans World Sport, I’d love it. I’d want to follow it. If I was in Australia, I’d follow it. That’s what anyone who loves sport would do. So, in that respect, the crisis has given us a PR opportunity and exposure that we’ve never had before and would probably have found difficult to get.”
Rangers, though, still have work to do if they are to clean up their tarnished image. Celtic already have questioned the commission’s conclusion that the Ibrox club did not seek to gain an unfair advantage by issuing £47 million in non-disclosed payments to players and staff.
If, as McCoist suggests, Rangers are to become an international force again, they will need to exploit foreign markets. In all probability, that will mean leaving Scotland, as they fully intend to do, but it will also mean persuading the world that they are a different club now, a new and progressive organisation that has dumped its sectarian baggage. Only last Saturday, two of their supporters were arrested for sectarian chanting in a Third Division match against Berwick Rangers. Not only is the practice morally reprehensible, it threatens to limit the club’s potential.
“In terms of a fresh start and sponsorship deals, it’s vital that incidents like the one at Berwick are now stamped out,” says McCoist. “We all know, as managers, fans and players, that we have a responsibility to behave and do the right thing. There’s no way any of our sponsors want to be tarnished with that kind of image.
“We have made giant strides to try and eradicate the problem. There’s an argument that it might take centuries until it’s totally gone, but I believe we’ve come a long way in educating people in what is right and wrong. The incident at Berwick was a big negative and a step back but, without ignoring it, I wouldn’t want it to overshadow the good work that’s been done.
“We want to become a global brand and it would be easier to do it without that element. There is no room for prejudice or bigotry in life, never mind sport.”
If Rangers do emerge from the rubble to become a powerhouse again, they will not be the first club to do so.
Juventus, who play Celtic in the knockout stage of the Champions League on Wednesday night, were relegated to Serie B in 2006 for their part in Italy’s match-fixing scandal. Not only are they back where they belong, they are better equipped than ever to deal with the harsh financial climate.
“Juventus have shown that you can come back and be as strong as you were before,” says McCoist. “I don’t think for a minute we’ll come back as quickly as Juve. But hopefully we’ll be back as strong as them because they’re now as powerful as they’ve ever been. It will take us a little bit longer. Juve went to Serie B so were only out of the top flight for one year – but our long-term goal is the same as theirs.”
In truth, the knockout stage of the Champions League is light years away from Rangers, who aren’t even out of Scotland’s bottom tier yet. Neither will they be if league reconstruction turns 12-10-10-10 into 12-12-18 this summer.
McCoist, whose team are running away with the Third Division, thinks that it would be unfair to deny them promotion. If another form of reconstruction – such as 12-12-10-10 – cannot be agreed upon, he wonders if Rangers should be entitled to a place in the First Division. After all, a similar thing happened to Stranraer in 1994, when the move from 12-12-14 to four leagues of ten saw the Second Division champions move from the old bottom tier to the new second.
“There’s a precedent,” says McCoist.
“I don’t want you to think I’m looking for favours, but I would have to say it would be strange if a precedent has been set and you don’t go back and do it again. Why would you do it with Stranraer and not do it this time? Maybe there is a reason for it, and if there is, I look forward to hearing it, but I believe that, if we win the league, we are due promotion.”