It’s not often that a professional sports team appears willing to run itself into the ground. But Glasgow Rangers, one of soccer’s legendary franchises, is giving it a go.
The team is bankrupt and has been desperate for a new owner to recapitalize it. But American trucking tycoon Bill Miller, the preferred bidder selected by the team’s bankruptcy administrators over a local group called the Blue Knights, abruptly withdrew his offer to buy the team. First, he cited an overly rosy financial picture drawn for him in preliminary discussions. But it also became abundantly clear that Rangers fans did not want a foreign owner, particularly an American, taking over their beloved team. “Truck off, Miller” was one of the more printable expressions of that sentiment.
You can understand why Rangers fans wouldn’t want Americans running their club. After all, Craig Whyte, the Scotsman who owned Rangers, was doing such a bang up job. Whyte’s financial machinations in buying the team last year are being investigated. Once in charge, he leveraged Rangers’ future ticket receipts for cash up front, putting the team deeply in debt; at the same time, Rangers could possibly owe more than $100 million in back taxes. Whyte has since been declared unfit to run a football club by the Scotland’s Football Association.
The xenophobia of Rangers’ fans seems to extend only to ownership. The team has foreign players including a couple of Americans, Maurice Edu and Carlos Bocanegra, because it couldn’t possibly compete in Scotland, never mind in European competitions, relying solely on homegrown talent.
The same is true in soccer these days when it comes to ownership of the most successful teams. But word hasn’t reached Glasgow. When Glaswegians look down the road 200 miles, they see Manchester United, owned by the Glazer family of the United States. This troubles them—the Glazers have been accused of enriching themselves at United’s expense, although the team has won the Premier League and Champions League during their tenure. Rangers could once claim to be a competitive peer with Man U. That’s laughable now.
And under the Glazers, Manu U’s franchise value is approaching $2 billion while Rangers’ value is approaching zero. Did it go sideways with American owners at Liverpool? Yes, but Liverpool can’t be competitive without foreign money—as its new American owners will likely demonstrate. And Chelsea and Manchester City? Not an Englishman in sight in the owners box. How are they doing? The former just won the FA Cup and is headed for the Champion’s League final. The latter could win the Premier League.
Although Rangers’ administrators say that three other bidders have come forward, it’s quite possible the team could be liquidated. And it’s more than possible that this is a great thing for the game. Rangers and Glasgow Celtic have dominated the Scottish Professional League forever— they were both European powers once— but their bitter, sectarian-based rivalry has helped to undermine them. Their vile and violent fans—Protestants in the case of Rangers; Catholics for Celtic—are everything that’s wrong with football. If Rangers were to fold, some of the religious hatred could be drained and perhaps new rivalries might develop in the SPL.
In walking away, Miller made a rational rather than emotional choice: he didn’t want to throw good money after bad. In rejecting him, Rangers fans may have doomed the team, or at the very least consigned it to mediocrity for years. “I wish Rangers fans, supporters and employees my very best,” Miller said in a statement. “I hope all your dreams and wishes come true. You certainly deserve it.” Actually, they don’t.