One of the most storied teams in the soccer world has gone public on a London stock exchange in the hopes of reviving its sagging fortunes.
On Wednesday, shares in Rangers International Football Club, known to many as Glasgow Rangers, began trading on the London Stock Exchange’s Alternative Investment Market, or AIM. The shares went public at 70 pence ($1.13) and closed the day at 76 pence ($1.22).
The club raised £22-million ($35.4-million) from the offering, which it plans to use mainly to upgrade its 51,000-seat venue, Ibrox Stadium.
The listing is a big step forward for the 140-year-old outfit. Rangers has been one of the dominant forces in Scottish soccer along with arch rival Celtic, a rivalry that often led to sectarian tensions between Protestants and Roman Catholics.
The Gers have won a record 54 Scottish league titles, 33 Scottish Cups and the now-defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1972 during its history. And the team has a legion of followers around the world, estimated at about five million strong. But it has fallen on hard times lately, being forced into liquidation because of a tax dispute and getting kicked out of the top tier of Scottish soccer.
The club’s problems began in 2011 shortly after a group led by Scottish businessman Craig Whyte bought the team in a complicated deal that saw Whyte pay the former owner just £1.
Whyte then got into a dispute with British tax authorities, who alleged the club had evaded paying taxes for nearly a decade. In February, 2012, Whyte put the team into a form of bankruptcy protection called administration, arguing the club couldn’t pay the tax bill, which totalled nearly £100-million ($161-million).
The financial troubles not only crippled the club’s operations, it also led to sanctions by the Scottish Premier League, or SPL, and a three-year ban on participation in European competitions. By spring the club faced liquidation when tax officials rejected a plan to reorganize the finances under administration.
That led to English businessman Charles Green buying Rangers’ assets for £5.5-million ($8.8-million). But even then the club faced more turmoil. Last summer, the other 11 SPL teams kicked the Rangers out of the Premier League, relegating the club to the third division, the lowest rung in Scottish professional soccer.
On Wednesday, Green heralded the share offering as a new beginning for the team.
“We are delighted to see our plans for bringing Rangers back to its glory days coming to fruition; a key part of which is its listing on AIM today,” he said. The team’s fans joined in by snapping up £5-million ($8-million) worth of shares.
So far this season, Rangers has been dominating the third division, where some teams play before a few thousand fans. The club has lost only once in 14 games and is running away with the title. Green hopes the success will enable the team to move back up to the SPL within a few seasons.
Sports teams are notoriously risky investments and it’s not clear Rangers will do any better.
Green is promising to keep a lid on spending, by limiting the payroll to one-third of overall revenue. He is also hoping to pull in more money from a new retail venture, upgrades to the stadium and expanded media partnerships. He also points out that the team is debt-free, thanks to the liquidation and administration.
But the finances of soccer remain challenging.
The SPL and the other divisions are considering major changes in part because of financial pressure. Rangers managed to post a profit in the last quarter of £14-million ($22.5-million), but it was mainly due to one-time items. On an operational basis, the club lost £5.4-million ($8.7-million).
But for now, anyway, Green, and Rangers fans, are basking the glow of a re-launch. “I look forward to the club growing in value as we get back to our rightful place at the top of Scottish football,” he said in a statement this week. “But we are just at the start of the journey.”