A sensational summer deal could end the bitter dispute between Mike Ashley and Rangers over a branded merchandise contract which saw the club earn only seven pence for every £1 of goods sold by Ashley’s Sports Direct group.
The Telegraph can reveal that a possible agreement has been on the cards for some time, although the existing arrangement is currently the subject of a case at the High Court in London in which Ashley seeks damages for what he alleges was a wrongful termination of his right to sell branded products, including Rangers jerseys.
The club’s lawyers argue that the contract, agreed when Charles Green’s consortium was in charge at Ibrox, is not in Rangers’ interests, has hindered the team’s progress on the field and triggered a boycott of sales by angry fans.
Last year the row became personal, when Ashley tried to have Dave King imprisoned for contempt of court after the Rangers chairman mentioned the Sports Direct deal in a TV interview.
Ashley’s attempt was thrown out by a High Court judge. Nevertheless, King believes that a productive truce could be close. Speaking on the day when Rangers’ six-month results showed a modest profit of almost £300,000 on a turnover of £5.3 million, King was asked if he felt that Ashley nourished an animus against him. “His view is about winning the fight and less about the money. We are all losing in that sense,” King said.
“Under normal commercial circumstances this would have been settled some time ago. Is it me? I think it is me to a point because I am the focal point of Rangers’ resistance, which is why I am the one he was trying to put in jail and intimidate me and sue me.
“It is certainly not to the extent that we can’t do business. Sports Direct is a smart retailer and I still think it makes sense for a club like Rangers to have a retail partner, but it would have to be on terms that were good for the club and that has always been the problem with Sports Direct.
“If we go to the supporters and say, ‘We now have a good deal - this is the basis of the deal’, and we explained the deal to them and the board made the decision to back the deal, I think the supporters would back it.
“Some might not but I think a large, large proportion - by far the largest proportion - would love to be able to go and buy Rangers kit but will not do so unless this board says to them we have a deal we believe works for the club.
“There’s no reason why it wouldn’t include Sports Direct at that point because Sports Direct in my view would be commercially naïve to completely walk away. There has to be something in it for us.
“The question is, can we leave something in it for them when it’s still largely in favour of the club? All I can really say is that I do believe there is a possibility that pre-season we might be able to do a proper kit launch that we can endorse and that will have the support of all the fans.”
Asked if he had been intimidated by Ashley’s actions, King said: “On a scale of one to ten it doesn’t get to one. The threat of going to jail was quite amusing. My family said ‘We’ll see you at Christmas. Which jail will we see you at?’
“This is what I do. I wouldn’t have taken it on at Rangers if I didn’t have the temperament and the personality. I signed up to do it. And then I’ll make a decision.
“If Sports Direct is completely done and the club is back on a certain footing, it would then make sense for me to say, ‘I’m happy to step down and not be chairman’, but right now, in my view, the club still needs someone like me to continue with the fights and the negotiations.
“We have done reasonably well with the interim results but it’s always easy to panic - you get the media saying ‘go and sign players’. What would have happened if we had given the management team £50 million last season? Where would the £50 million be?
“Celtic’s big advantage is getting an easy run at the Champions League and Europe, because we are not there to take it away from them. We must challenge Celtic.
“Does it mean win the title next year? Of course, it doesn’t, but I would like to challenge Celtic and see some distance between ourselves and Aberdeen and Hearts because, again, investment will be made to do that.