Shadows On The Wall: Whyte Wants Out of Scotland
Making a reference to Greek philosophy when discussing Glasgow Rangers probably sounds far too distorted to be credible. It likely is, but it was difficult not to consider Plato’s Allegory of the Cave when hearing owner Craig Whyte talk of reviving the Atlantic League idea or somehow getting Rangers accepted into the English league system. Much like the prisoners in that cave who had been chained there since birth, restricted from movement, Whyte seemed to paint Rangers as unfortunate heavyweights tied down to a league incapable of furthering the club’s ambitions or fattening its wallets. Instead, those shadows on the wall–Rangers playing their way into the lucrative English Premier League or the unfettered freedom from creating a league with other top European sides–looks much more appealing to Whyte than the tangible reality of playing Kilmarnock on a Tuesday. Of course, as Socrates continues in the lesson, it is supposed that one of the prisoners is released from the cave, but upon seeing the actual objects that have been casting those shadows on the wall of the cave all that time, the prisoner has no idea what they are.
Were Whyte to earn Rangers release from the shackles of the Scottish Premier League, he might be struck dumb and want to return to the cave to stare at the shadows a bit more in depth.
In regards to Rangers somehow gaining entry into the English Premier League, the idea has been one that was rather emphatically rejected by the English clubs the last time this issue arose in 2009. The proposal from Bolton’s chair, Phil Gartside, to include both Rangers and Celtic in a two-tiered Premier League, was rejected by reportedly 3/4 of the constituent clubs, with the official statement being that bringing the Old Firm into the English top flight was “not desirable or viable” in any form. Chief executive Richard Scudamore reiterated this position rather clearly upon interview in 2009, stating “No means no” and that having the two Scottish clubs in the English Premier League was a “non-starter.” Naturally, this position could change as quickly as Carlos Tevez deciding whether he wants to warm up, but it would be considerably difficult to imagine enough top flight English clubs agreeing to forgo their piece of the revenue pie to either Rangers or Celtic, given the lucrative pay-outs even to the worst finishers in the Premier League. So currently, with the prospect of simply parachuting into the English top flight closed, Whyte would need to gauge how receptive the Football League would be to Rangers joining the Championship and earning their way into the Premier League through promotion.
Should Greg Clarke and the Football League prove receptive to including Rangers somewhere in the English league system, Rangers would appear to be in for considerably less than imagined. While the top flight was paying its clubs silly amounts of money through its television revenues, the Football League saw its recent TV deal slashed by 26%, with Clarke advising clubs to trim their budgets to avoid uncertain calamity. Now, while the league did supposedly retain a record 5 year deal with Pitch International for overseas broadcasts, the amount of that deal is not readily available, and it, combined with the UK deal would need to pay out considerably more per club than the baseline £2.2 million Rangers should have received alone last season from the SPL’s television deal for finishing first in the league for this to be an attractive option.
Granted, this is a crude estimate–culled from the SPL’s 17% distribution to the Scottish champion under the league’s current £65 million television contract–and does not include other revenue streams, such as player sales and income from European adventures. Still, though, if the Championship is receptive to Rangers, their current television contract offers only slightly more (£2.7 million) if payments are set out equally across the 24 clubs, around £200K more than that if there is a similar percentage distribution for Rangers finishing somewhere near mid-table their first season in the Championship, and most clubs in England’s second division do not have the opportunity to increase their earnings through trips to the continent as Rangers have via the Champions League and Europa League. Include the reality that the Football League has chosen to adopt UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations beginning in the 2012/13 season, and Whyte would likely be unable to invest that £100 million on a Rangers side in the English league, even if he even had the funding. Certainly, that fantastic, bloated carrot of promotion to the Premier League hangs out there either through finishing 1st, 2nd, or via the most valuable game in football to make it worth all the upheaval, but it should be mentioned the Football League has to be one of the most difficult leagues in European club football from which to earn promotion.
Perhaps Whyte could consult a Nottingham Forest supporter for details on the difficulty of winning promotion via the playoffs.
This has yet to take into consideration the potential decline in matchday revenues if Rangers played in the English league. While Ibrox can record attendances over 40,000 for matches with Kilmarnock or Aberdeen, it would be more onerous to generate those numbers with a home fixture list featuring southern clubs like Southampton or Portsmouth. Visits from a Welsh side like Cardiff might look appealing for a neutral observer, but would the strain of traveling up to Glasgow be too much for even the more faithful of their supporters? Average home crowds among the top draws in the Championship last season were still less than what Rangers drew, with the January encounter against tiny Hamilton attended by 11,000 more at Ibrox than league attendance leader Leeds United did in their highest gate against Sheffield United last September. In the unlikely event that Whyte somehow cajoles Rangers into the Premier League, there could still be a problem with the gate receipts based on fewer away fans making their way to Ibrox simply due to matters of distance. Now, were Rangers in the English league at some level, this argument could be countered with the assumption that the club would make up the difference by charging a higher fee on its tickets, thus squeezing more blood out of the fewer turnips that show up.
In these trying economic times, certainly Light Blue supporters would be okay with higher ticket prices, right?
Travel and attendance issues would also be in play should the alternative course of joining an Atlantic League be explored further. Rangers supporters demonstrated just earlier this season that, while they love their Gers, they might not always be up for watching them play against less than attractive sides, even in Glasgow. During Champions League qualification, attendance at Ibrox for the encounter with Malmo was recorded at 28,828. For the home match against Maribor, a crucial match for Rangers to keep their European dreams alive this season, the draw mustered 32,223. Three days later against Aberdeen, Ibrox welcomed over 44,000. Considering that Malmo is from one of those Nordic nations that would theoretically provide clubs for an Atlantic League, it would appear clubs of this persuasion are not as enticing as those from within Scotland’s own borders. Were Rangers fans looking at away league matches to places in Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, or Denmark, this would perhaps dampen enthusiasm for those accustomed to shorter travels in support of their club, as personal time and money wore thin while tempers become short during repeated visits to international airports. Even funding the club itself to travel to the likes of PSV Eindhoven on a league basis might prove costly to Rangers, let alone the possible loss of revenue from gate receipts.
Add in the notion that this was a proposal generally dismissed by UEFA when it first came about last decade along with questions over a television contract and who would pay to watch such league fixtures, and this also comes across as being more identifiable in shadow form.
Being able to discern that the prospect of Rangers leaving Scottish football exists mainly as an ill-defined image on a cave wall this easily, it begs the question as to whether Whyte offered this up as a red herring. Rather than discussing the club’s ongoing dispute with HMRC over unpaid taxes and the possibility of Rangers going into administration should their court cases find them on the losing side, this has been the topic of discussion for a week, with manager Ally McCoist making statements on this rather than on whether a potential loss to the tax man will see him have his squad gutted in a fire sale and threaten his chances to win another SPL title for Rangers. Or, maybe Whyte really considers these previously dead plans to be the club’s only way out of its current financial situation and he is thinking of alternative ways to fulfill his promise that he will not let Rangers go bust.
Should he truly believe in either initiative, he might wish to consult those Greek philosophers about that allegorical cave again along with the tale of Icarus, who tried to escape his imprisonment but had his wax wings melted when he flew too far away.
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