Lone Rangers bid goes tonto
- 8 May 2012
- From the section Scotland
What's the appeal to a Tennessee businessman of buying Rangers Football Club when he knew very little about it?
Apparently, it had to do with the prospect of the hair on Bill Miller's arms standing up as he witnessed the passion at an Old Firm match.
No, I'm not making this up. Bill Miller's friends had told him this was one of the world's great derby matches.
But to own a half of said contest, and a lot of baggage that goes with it, is quite a price to pay for a bit of follicular stimulation.
We know this was the attraction of owning Rangers because he has, at last, explained it. But he only did so at the end of the statement announcing he's withdrawing as preferred bidder.
He gives two main reasons for pulling out. One is that he's had a closer look at the books, and they're not quite as good as he was led to believe.
"Preliminary information, discussion and analysis were, unfortunately, more optimistic than reality," said the statement.
Given what was already public knowledge about Rangers' books, and the business risks hanging over them, it stretches the imagination a bit to think they're even worse than we'd thought.
Or perhaps, viewed from Chattanooga, the enormity of the debts and the even more daunting complexity of sorting out the business while retaining Rangers' sporting position had been, somehow, lost in translation somewhere mid-Atlantic
That's until Team Miller got beyond the limited information made available by Duff and Phelps, the Ibrox administrators, and the preliminary discussions with both the Scottish footballing authorities and team manager Ally McCoist.
A bit more light was shed on this by Duff and Phelps, saying of Bill Miller "there were a number of issues with which he felt uncomfortable including legacy contracts, the limitation of potential revenue streams and the expectation of required investment".
Yankie doo-doo fan day
That raises lots of questions about what's meant. "Legacy contracts" could be the deal by which Craig Whyte last year raised more than £24m from selling three years of season tickets to Ticketus, the football finance firm based in London.
Or that could refer to the deals to sell catering and hospitality rights, or perhaps players contracts.
All of those contracts could be set aside if the company is liquidated. But of course, Mr Miller thought he had a cunning plan to avoid liquidation. It's not looking so cunning now.
But hark! News arrives of more explanation from one of Bill Miller's US-based advisers, saying that "There are big legacy costs as a result of doing things poorly over a number of years - structural and commercial problems".
Bill Pritchitt talks of Mr Miller becoming "very unpopular, given the way things have operated".
It seems some at Ibrox hadn't quite realised how much things needed to change, and were asking when the spending taps might get turned on again.
He adds: "The second factor is some of the contingency liabilities: are the players coming or going? What are the final decisions with regard to the SFA and SPL and sanctions?"
So "Potential revenue streams" probably refers to the blow from an exit from European competition for at least one year, and quite possibly more, or the threat that relegation to the third division would hit gate receipts and TV rights rather hard.
And the "expectation of required investment"? Bill Miller had only briefly mentioned the working capital required to fund Rangers, beyond the £11.2m he offered to take over the club. No figure was mentioned.
He was off the hook for one year of squad development, because registration of players is banned for a season. But the club was leeching £10m per season as it was, and that was going to require some deep pockets while he turned things around with what he called "fiscal discipline - no excuses".
Mr Pritchitt, chief executive of Club 9 Sports, which itself was previously interested in bidding said, tells us that, from Mr Miller's point of view: "It would take a fairly large amount of money to keep it from dying". And was it worth his children's inheritance? Er, no.
Then there was the other big reason for pulling out - the reaction Bill Miller received from Rangers fans, citing the "Yanks Go Home" message. This was the shortened version of several banners displayed at Ibrox last weekend, with references extending to "asset stripping Yanks".
Mr Pritchett says it went rather further than that, with hundreds of emails directed at him, some full of "vitriol and expletive-filled".
Miller says he heard the message "loud and clear". So he's taking his £11m from his lawyers' bank account, to spend it elsewhere - presumably somewhere that sports fans are rather happier to see his investment, and local newspapers are less prying into his private life.
Ibrox bonus bidders
So where does this leave Rangers? Duff and Phelps say that, after Bill Miller was given preferred bidder status last Thursday, three other bidders came forward.
Now, let's be clear about this: we're expected to believe that three different people or groups have watched Rangers for a year since Craig Whyte's reign began, and for the three months since he put it into administration.
And it was only last Thursday, when they saw a preferred bidder come forward, that they thought they'd like to have a go, and could find the money. That's three bids. Seriously?
It brings me back to the simple question that nagged away at the Bill Miller bid: why? Why would he want to take on Rangers, when he had no link to it? And why would someone else now want to do so, when the complexities and risks are so daunting?
We know one reason why Duff and Phelps wants more bidders. It has a responsibility to creditors to maximise the value they can get from the debt they have with the club.
With Bill Miller out, attention turns back to the Blue Knights consortium - led by former director Paul Murray along with Sale Sharks rugby team owner Brian Kennedy. But if they are the only ones left bidding, then they can lower their price.
As they were reported to be bidding only £1.5m, that's already impossibly low if a deal is to be done with creditors.
Is it worth agreeing to one or two pence in the pound, or could there be more to be had from forcing a liquidation, and selling the assets in a firesale auction?
That's the conversation Duff and Phelps have to have with HM Revenue and Customs and with Ticketus, among others. And with the end of the season and of players' temporary contracts looming large, they're running out of time to find an answer.
The creditors will want to know if these new bids are credible, just as we all do.
They may also be asking about the credibility of Duff and Phelps in their management of this process. They're looking ever more like Laurel and Hardy.