Last night, shortly after the details of the Sevco retail deal was broadcast, I got an email from a friend of mine who has a good claim to knowing what goes on at Ibrox. He gave me some information that sounded plausible, but was without solid foundation.
I want to make that clear here, right at the start.
This is a rumour.
Yet his story was interesting enough that I felt it was worth sharing, because it makes sense, it adds up, and it fits with stuff I’ve heard previously. I can’t account for its full veracity, but I do believe it, because there’s a certain underlying logic to the story.
According to him, Sports Direct and Puma forced Sevco to the negotiating table, with the sportswear manufacturer threatening to sue the club for breach of contract unless a deal was struck which allowed them to clear out all their surplus stocks.
To say they are at the end of the rope as far as their relationship with Sevco goes is an understatement.
Part of the problem has exactly nothing to with Sports Direct, although Puma and Ashley’s firm have a good working relationship, and last year openly put the club’s shirts up for sale in spite of King’s people telling them not to do it.
This came amidst threats to sue the club if they tried to prevent those sales from going ahead.
Ignore all King’s glib assurances, given yesterday, that their sponsors and shirt manufacturers were happy with the situation as it has unfolded over the last 12 months. Nothing could be further from the truth. They had paid Sevco advances on expected sales figures. They had paid a seven figure upfront fee. They had expected a major shirt launch last year, and this year; that’s what they paid their money for, after all. That was the point.
They were furious this time last season, when Sevco refused to push the strip.
They believed it was a deliberate act of sabotage – which it was – by the club. When the window for that strip launch was missed they told the club they would not part with another penny for the season. They had one year to go following that. And they expected a different scenario this year.
But Sevco’s boardroom ineptitude utterly ruined that. The failure, until late in the day, to announce a shirt sponsor, wrecked the chances of Puma getting out a brand new shirt in time for the season to start. King sat there yesterday, in front of hand-picked toadies who lapped it up like cats being fed cream instead of the rest of the bottle of piss, and said that it was too late to get a new shirt designed for meeting the SPL and European deadlines, as if that was nothing, as if it was a minor matter; tell me, which other clubs with European intent failed to get shirt designs in on time for the new campaign and so had to play another season in last year’s kit?
That embarrassment, that utter humiliation, that abject admission, borne of rank incompetence was completely ignored amidst talk of how Sports Direct had caved in, of how King had beaten Ashley. They accepted all of this, at King’s word, a man who is a born liar, a proven liar, and who sat in front of them and either openly breached commercial confidentiality or lied to them about what the particulars of the new deal actually are.
King says he and the board are in discussion with Puma about launching new second and third kids and will try to do that “within the next couple of months” but think on that for a minute; they are too late to register a home kit with the SFA but the governing body will let them do an away kit launch once the season starts?
Bollocks, utter bollocks.
Those things have to be finalised, and registered, with the league by the end of this month; nine days from now.
If there’s not already a strip designed and ready to go then there’s not going to be one.
That would further anger Puma, who according to my guy will try and get something done, but Sevco’s stupidity and managerial failure has left it till very late in the day. In fact, I hear Puma may even insist that Sevco do get a home shirt out for the new campaign; I don’t expect it, but it’s possible. What then for the idiots who flocked to Sports Direct in the last 24 hours and bought out last season’s strip, expecting to be able to wear it at games?
I do expect the fleecing to hit high gear come what may.
But my guy said that Puma drove the “negotiations” the whole way, by threatening to sue the club for monies already paid and further loss of earnings unless an accommodation was reached. And Sports Direct went along with it because Sevco offered them a deal that guaranteed their own bottom line wouldn’t be affected.
Indeed, without knowing the full details – and we never will; King can’t publish them and Sports Direct won’t, because the Peepul who queued to buy all the tat yesterday and today wouldn’t have – we can’t say for sure just how much extra cash the club can expect to make … but even at a premium, as I showed yesterday, it won’t make that great a difference.
King and his board can bluster all they like; what I realised last year is that Ashley doesn’t give a toss what anyone thinks or says about him and public perception usually doesn’t matter a damn to him. This actually polishes his reputation in some circles, making him look fair minded, smoothing out some of the rough edges after a year of negative publicity that moved the Sports Direct share price a notch downward; that’s all he’s concerned with.
That aside, he has the hide of rhino but he moves in rarefied circles where his own business bona-fides are not in the slightest doubt.
He couldn’t care less whether a small-time charlatan like King claims victory or not; he has his own criteria for assessing success and failure and it has little to do with the public relations efforts of a delusional tax cheat. He may even have reckoned with King not being around much longer; indeed, I heard another rumour this morning about King having now fashioned the circumstances for his own departure, as the “victorious hero”. This gives him cover to walk away.
I doubt that myself; I think he’ll be around a while yet.
In the end, nothing King says will change what’s in the new agreement, and nothing he says will detract from Ashley’s status. This is a guy who lives in a mansion, has a fleet of sports cars and goes about in a private jet the likes of which Murray never dreamed.
He will sleep at night, in silk sheets, in spite of Chris Jack’s infantile gushing and whatever Roddy Forsyth writes in his feeble column for a right-wing rag.
If he really has won this war, or gotten a result in it that doesn’t cost his company a bean, he’ll settle for knowing it.
Crowing isn’t his style anyway.
But make no mistake; if this information is correct it was Puma who drove this to its conclusion, and they gave King and his board no choice whatsoever.
They were not prepared to accept tens of thousands of unsold shirts, bearing their logo on top of the complete failure to get a deal in place for this campaign. They wanted a resolution and a legal challenge from them would have thoroughly torpedoed the club.
Administration, at the very least, would have been certain, and faced with that even King was forced to back down.
They know their hopes for this deal will never be realised; now it’s about maximising whatever profit they are able to get in the 12 months that are left.
And they told King that he better not stand in their way.
So he went crawling to Sports Direct and asked “what will it take to give us the appearance of a win?”
And Ashley’s company protected itself – probably with a long term arrangement that keeps the club dependent on their merchandising arm far beyond the seven year term of the last agreement – and let King make the announcement.
I’m not saying any of this is true, remember … it’s just what I’ve heard.
But those with shovels now have somewhere to start digging.
I don’t expect the press to do it, but I’m sure it will be done – is probably being done already – in spite of that.