RANGERS EXCLUSIVE: Choose between a cash cow...or sacrificial lamb

TO generations of supporters, this imposing stadium is a sacred place, the spiritual home of the club.

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Controversy broke out among Dortmund fans over the renaming of the famous Westfalenstadion
Controversy broke out among Dortmund fans over the renaming of the famous Westfalenstadion

Every time their team takes to the field there, it is packed with tens of thousands of passionate fans.

The atmosphere generated during big matches, on European nights especially, is renowned.

It is also where, over many decades, the greatest successes in their illustrious history have been celebrated.

And to many traditionalists selling the name to a sponsor for financial gain is virtually sacrilegious.

Sound familiar? The above descriptions could certainly all be applied to Ibrox in Glasgow.

But this is actually the Westfalenstadion, where Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund play in Germany. And there is one significant difference to the ground where Rangers have been based for over a century.

Dortmund have already sold the naming rights – their stadium is now known, officially at least, as the Signal Iduna Park.

A sizeable number of their fans – and over 80,000 of them can cram into a stadium built for the World Cup in 1974 – are unhappy about the arrangement.

"Many of us, probably as many as half, would have liked the stadium to have remained as just the Westfalenstadion," said supporters' representative Ralf Bachmeier.

However, the benefits of a 16-year agreement with an insurance company worth in the region of €5million a year are undeniable.

The deal, struck in 2005, helped slash the substantial debt Borussia Dortmund had amassed in buying the property.

It also partially ensures the club can pay top international players decent wages and ensure they are competitive at home and abroad. Jurgen Klopp's side have won the German title two seasons running and are safely into the last 16 of the Champions League this season.

Bachmeier said: "The supporters who do not agree with renaming the stadium appreciate how important it is to the club.

"Anyway, most people still refer to it as the Westfalenstadion."

Selling the naming rights to stadiums, and not just newly constructed ones, has been common business practice in Germany for years.

Most, but not all, of the clubs in the flourishing Bundesliga currently have sponsors for their grounds.

Even VfB Stuttgart, whose ground was originally built way back in 1933, play at the Mercedes-Benz Arena.

That does not mean consternation, like that brewing among Rangers fans as chief executive Charles Green prepares to sell the naming rights to Ibrox for the first time, does not exist.

"The situation in Germany sounds very similar to the one at Rangers," says George Moissidis of Kicker sports magazine. "Some people like it, understand how important the extra revenue could be to their club, appreciate how it can help.

"But some fans, including those who don't particularly care about their team qualifying to play in the Champions League, don't like it.

"Supporters who went to the stadium as a kid and have known it by one name all their lives are often very much against it.

"A lot of fans feel that a new name has no emotion attached to it for them. They say things like: 'What is HSH (the former sponsor of Hamburg's stadium)?'

"Then there are people who want their club to get more money and enjoy more success on the park as a result of that. I would say the split is about 60 to 40, maybe 70 to 30, between the modernists, who welcome sponsors, to the traditionalists, who oppose it."

Moissidis added: "In my experience, the fans who don't like it get used to it. After a while, they don't even think about it. And everyone calls the club by its original name anyway.

"In Stuttgart, for example, the stadium was called the Neckerstadion, after the city's river, for many years. Most people still call it that."

Selling the naming rights to stadiums generates extra income for German clubs shackled by strict ownership guidelines laid out by their governing body.

"The DFB prevents any individual or organisation from having a majority shareholding in one of their member clubs.

This stipulation –which is known as the 50+1 rule – discourages billionaire Arab sheikhs and Russian oligarchs from taking control. Moissidis said: "German clubs cannot compete with the likes of, say, Chelsea, who are bankrolled by Roman Abramovich, financially.

"The money many clubs, those where one wealthy individual has total power, can spend is crazy in comparison with what German clubs can spend.

"German clubs have to make money from somewhere to compete with clubs in England and other countries. Selling the name of their stadiums to sponsors is one way they do that.

"To me, it seems to make sense that clubs in Scotland, which do not make as much money from the likes of television and advertising as those in England, should go down this route.

"I have been at Ibrox on a few occasions for European games and have loved the stadium and enjoyed the atmosphere. I hope it stays just Ibrox. But I can understand why Rangers would do this.

"The Bundesliga made a profit of €2.1billion last year. This was distributed between its member clubs. Their combined debt still rose from €593million to €623million.

"Clubs have to examine and exploit every possible way of generating money to ensure they are not left behind by their European counterparts and selling the naming rights to stadiums is a big part of that."


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