MIKE Ashley has told Dave King the best way to boost Rangers’ retail profits is to pay back the £5million the club owes Sports Direct.
The Newcastle owner has issued a statement ahead of Friday’s general meeting at Ibrox, where shareholders will be asked to vote on Ashley’s resolution demanding repayment of the loan given to club back in January.
The Newcastle owner, who holds an 8.92 per cent stake in Gers, gave the loan to the previous Rangers board to help alleviate their latest cash crisis.
But he also used the opportunity to grab security on assets such as the club’s Murray Park training ground and trademarks. On top of that, he also took a further 26 per cent share of Rangers Retail Limited to put himself in charge of three-quarters of the club’s profits from the sale of shirts and other merchandise.
Gers chairman King, who swept the old regime out of power back at the start of March, has advised shareholders to vote down Ashley’s call and back a second resolution put forward by the new board demanding a better deal from his retail empire.
But Ashley has warned his South Africa-based rival that his company “is not a bank”.
His statement, issued through Sports Direct’s holding company MASH Holdings, said: “Sports Direct notes from the recent voting advice statement issued by the new board on 3 June 2015 that the new board are saying that there has been ‘a continued and dramatic reduction in income generated by retail operations’.
“Sports Direct is of the opinion that there is no basis for this statement whatsoever, and invites the new board (subject to complying with confidentiality obligations) to explain in detail the facts behind this statement.
“It should not be forgotten that at the end of the day, Sports Direct is not a bank, it is a supportive business partner and it entered into a £10 million loan facility with RFC on the basis of providing much needed financial support at the relevant time.
“As has previously been announced, this loan facility was entered into together with other contractual documents to bolster that joint venture relationship, but it was always drawn on the basis, at least as far as Sports Direct is concerned, of being a short term loan facility that RFC would be incentivised to repay and restore its shareholding in Rangers Retail back to what it had previously been.
“That is why if, nevertheless the new board and the shareholders of Rangers Plc believe that the current shareholding in Rangers Retail of 75 per cent Sports Direct and 25 per cent RFC is too generous to Sports Direct, then the solution is simple.
“RFC is fully entitled at any time to repay the current £5million loan to Sports Direct and revert back to the prior shareholding in Rangers Retail of 51 per cent RFC and 49 per cent Sports Direct.
“This point goes to the heart of the proposed Sports Direct resolution, RFC has the ability to equalise the profit arrangements at Rangers Retail and release itself from security provisions; that is entirely a decision for RFC to take.”
However, King, who is still mulling over his decision on who to appoint as the club’s new manager, with former Brentford boss Mark Warbuton now understood to be the frontrunner, has been given the backing of fans group Rangers First.
The fan-ownership campaigners, who own 2.49 per cent of the club, say 80 per cent of their members voted against Ashley’s resolution, while over 96 per cent backed King’s call for a better deal.
Rangers First director Ricki Neill said: “A vast majority of Rangers First members have voted against repaying the £5m loan to Sports Direct. Repayment of the loan simply will not resolve the deeper issue of the current structure of the commercial deals between the club and Sports Direct.
“Our members have also voted in favour of a review of these deals. Rangers First feel that what is required is a merchandising deal that is wholly beneficial to both parties rather than the lose-lose situation we are faced with right now.
“I would hope that Mike Ashley is aware that Rangers FC were once the second biggest seller of replica shirt sales in Britain with around 500,000 shirts. The decline in sales is now down to approximately 50,000 shirts and is of absolutely no benefit to anyone and needs to be urgently addressed.
“Myself and many Rangers fans worldwide wear their Rangers top with pride but are now in a position where they feel they can no longer wear the top as it’s not financially supporting our club. We hope a satisfactory agreement can be reached on this matter very soon.”