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Rangers spread into the shopping market

Rangers' already well developed taste for spending is increasing, and they are looking for new ways of paying for their habit.

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Having spent more than #14m on players so far this close season to strengthen their performance on the field, they now aim to raise extra revenue by becoming equally powerful in the high street. Rangers Direct is a new initiative from chairman David Murray which will see the club expand their commercial operation into retailing. Supporters will be encouraged to buy their Rangers merchandise, not from established outlets, but from three new shops owned and run by the club in Glasgow - one already at the stadium, two in the city - and from a mail order service which will operate world-wide. The profits, Murray says, will help pay for future spending sprees for Europe's top players. This is not so much cutting out the middle man as putting the club into the profit-making centre. ''Obviously, a lot of people have made a great deal of money out of Rangers,'' says Murray. ''We are expecting to sell around 400,000 new strips this season. At #40 a time that raises #16m. We want to see Rangers benefit more from that than they have in the past.'' ''I am aiming to increase our profits from commercial activities by #10m. When you look at what we have spent, and then realise that we raise about #9m from season ticket sales, you can see how important this area of our business is. What I am saying to supporters is that if they want more signings like Laudrup, Thern and Rozental, then they can help pay for them by buying directly from us.'' He and his staff look to Europe and their ambition is stiffened, not just in terms of trophies won, but also profits made to enable the winning of them. Manchester United are still a bigger operation commercially, but Rangers want to change that. ''I can accept the reasons why United may receive more television money, but in other terms we can match or better them. It is time for us to compete better commercially,'' Murray says. That has meant a doubling in the size of the commercial staff at Ibrox as well, with two key appointments to aid the efforts of director Bob Reilly. He has two new lieutentants in former player Sandy Jardine and marketing executive Martin Bain. Jardine has not been hired out of sentiment, but rather because he is as financially astute as he was as a right back for the club. Bain managed Scottish and Newcastle's sponsorship at Ibrox as an outsider, and was liked so much he was asked to join the company. ''The branding of Rangers can be expanded world-wide. We have already seen from the signings we have made that we are acknowledged as a major name as far afield as Italy and Chile. ''Now we want to take commercial advantage of the support we have at home and also in places like Canada and Australia - wherever we are known,'' Murray says.

Those markets will initially be tapped by way of a new monthly magazine and video which will be available world-wide. Their initial move into retailing, however, may primarily be about raising revenue, but it is also about raising profile. ''I think we would open shops in Australia even if it was not the most viable operation,'' Murray insists. ''It would provide a service for our supporters there and take our name to a new market.'' ''We are looking at the Far East as a potential market, but we know you have to get things right at home before you start to try to export abroad.'' To prepare for that, Rangers have bought a substantial warehouse in Glasgow, which will feed the world with Rangers merchandise by mail order. The scale of the financial empire which this suggests may make some supporters wonder if theirclub has not changed beyond recognition. Murray insists not. ''Football is a different type of business which is not all about bottom line. Look at the situation with Brian Laudrup, for example. We could have made a lot of money by selling him to Ajax. In the end, we could miss out, but keeping him at Ibrox was about keeping the magic alive. We could not spoil the dream and had to keep faith with our supporters, whatever it meant in financial terms. In football the dividends are trophies,'' Murray says.

Such is the competitive nature of the man, it is difficult to see that statement as not being a dig at his oldest rivals, Celtic, as well as a statement of his philosophy. But Murray's mind is focused, and, as he attempts to make Rangers the financial champions of Europe, his club has an advantage over others, like Manchester United, who have floated on the Stock Exchange. They make profits to please institutional investors in terms of dividends. Murray holds over 60 per cent of the stock at Ibrox and can therefore plough his money back in. The pressure for monetary dividends is not as great. Nonetheless there seems a tireless will to exploit the assets of the club. The #3m which they invested in their giant Jumbotron screens, for example, is starting to be re-couped by hiring them out to the Ashes Test match at Edgbaston as well as grands prix. After nine consecutive titles, there may be little which Rangers can do to improve their product domestically. Success in Europe is, of course, the aim, but Murray will not be seduced into belittling the achievements at home. ''There are nine-year-old children who believe that Rangers always win the league. We have had tremendous success, but that in itself creates tremendous pressure.'' If Rangers are as determined in their retail ambitions as they appear to be on the field, then there is no clear limit. Perhaps in a few years time, similar nine-year-old children may think you always get your rice crispies and milk from Rangers as well as championship trophies.

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