A Conversation with James Bisgrove, Rangers FC

The Commercial and Marketing Director at Rangers Football Club of the Scottish Premiership reveals details of the club’s Project 2022, its new Blue Sky Lounge and Club 72, as well as the future of sports hospitality.

  • A Conversation with James Bisgrove, Rangers Football Club

Editor’s Note: The following transcript has been abbreviated and lightly edited for clarity. To read this interview transcript in its entirety, visit www.sportsvenuebusiness.com.

James, can you start by telling us a bit about yourself, background, and career highlights?

In 2013, after three years of leading the global sponsorship portfolios for Emirates Airline based in Dubai, I moved to Switzerland to work for UEFA as a sponsorship lead for the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League. I was a member of the management team, with accountability for driving the strategy and execution of the UEFA Champions League sponsorship programme, growing revenues, fan engagement, and managing relations with UCL and UEL competition sponsors, such as Heineken, PepsiCo, MasterCard, PlayStation, Nissan, FedEx, Kia Motors, adidas, and Gazprom. I played a key role in the delivery of UEFA’s broader marketing and brand objectives, working closely with partners to grow the strength of the UCL competition brand.

In 2016, I became Head of Sponsorship Partnership Management for TEAM Marketing AG (the exclusive commercial agency of UEFA), where I was responsible for managing partner relations for 15 brands across UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League club competitions, ensuring continued revenue growth for UEFA’s club competitions and best-in-class industry standards were delivered for all partners.

In June 2019, I joined the Rangers FC executive board as Commercial and Marketing Director to oversee the commercial growth and modernisation of the club’s marketing and digital activities. I’m responsible for Commercial, Marketing, Digital, Hospitality, Rangers TV, Soccer Schools, Events, and Partnerships teams, with a core focus on driving deeper fan engagement, growing the fan base, developing the Rangers brand globally, and ultimately, overall revenue growth.

In your role as Commercial and Marketing Director for Rangers, what are your key objectives for the next one to three years?

“Internationally, there is huge potential with the brand the club has, the history, with Steven Gerrard as the manager, and all the great players on the team.”

– James Bisgrove, Rangers FC

Predominantly, it’s driving new revenue growth across a number of different streams, whether that’s via commercial partnerships, hospitality, digital platforms like our Rangers TV, which is growing rapidly, and our digital media, so what I’m mandated to do is grow all of those revenues as quickly as we can.

There’s also a big piece around fan engagement and driving a form a deeper fan engagement with our existing supporters, but in parallel, trying to grow our support base. Rangers is incredibly fortunate to have 46,000 season ticket holders, a waiting list of 10,000-12,000, and a really loyal fan base in Glasgow and the wider UK.

But outside of that, I think internationally, there is huge potential with the brand the club has, the history, with Steven Gerrard as the manager, and all the great players on the team. So it’s two-prong: the commercial revenue side, but also growing the fan base. And hopefully the two won’t be mutually exclusive with obvious correlations between the two.

Can you provide us with an overview of Project 2022?

Project 2022 is the working group, which is a steering committee at the club, that’s responsible for everything we will do in our 150th season, which we will celebrate during the 2021-22 season.

The club will be 150 years old in 2022, making it the first major European club to reach that milestone, so the idea is, across that season, to have a whole calendar of celebrations that will take the form of different events, special matches, limited edition kits, a lot of marketing, and fan engagement activity.

We’re also looking at our infrastructure and opportunities to enhance the matchday experience by investing in the Ibrox infrastructure. The two hospitality lounges, Club 72 and Blue Sky Lounge, were the first two examples of us looking at our matchday experience and our Ibrox facilities and wanting to make an investment there.

In the case of the Blue Sky Lounge, we’re transforming the Argyle Suite, Morton Lounge, and Symon Lounge to create this new hospitality space.

There are a number of other projects and feasibility studies we’re doing in terms of Ibrox, but also the Edmiston House building, which is currently a derelict building adjacent to Ibrox, which is owned by the club and used to be a social club. We’re looking at renovating that and introducing a multi-purpose events and conference space, so we can have matchday fans over there, we can host conferences, comedy nights, etc., plus we can put our retail space in there, so the club store, potentially a club museum, and coffee shop.

All of this is wrapped up in the umbrella of Project 2022, and there is a lot of planning and a lot of work going on behind the scenes within this working group at the club.

What were the main drivers behind the creation of the Blue Sky Lounge and Club 72?

At a high level, one of the things we’re aware of from the club’s perspective is the number of premium seats we have versus where we think the demand fits within the wider industry, but specifically to the club.

At the moment, we’ve got around 1,300 hospitality places across nine-ten lounges. And of those 1,300, around 800-900 are clients who come every week. We see an opportunity here, as Ibrox has a capacity of 50,000. We know other stadiums have a greater number of premium seats. So one of the opportunities we want to look at as we expand Ibrox is how do we increase the number of premium seats.

We also want to make sure we cater for everyone. At Ibrox, we want to be able to offer everything from the very high-end experience that is our Chairmans Lounge, which offers fine dining, etc. That package is north of £8,000 per year, but we also want to offer entry level, where it’s a bit more relaxed, sports-bar feel, where you can have a beer pregame and watch another match on the big screen with your friends in a relaxed atmosphere.

“We want to have five or six levels of different offerings so we’ve almost got a menu of premium/VIP products for our existing client base, which will also allow us to attract new and more hospitality clients.”

– James Bisgrove, Rangers FC

From the entry level through to the very formal, we want to have five or six levels of different offerings so we’ve almost got a menu of premium/VIP products for our existing client base, which will also allow us to attract new and more hospitality clients and activate a waiting list and a built-up demand we believe is there.

Specifically talking about Club 72, which is currently Bar 72, what we wanted to do there is retain the concept of it, with its relaxed feeling, an informal space, but modernise it, give it a brand-new look and feel, inject technology, increase the seating area, and really focus on the guest experience in terms of how the drinks are served, what are the food offerings, what are the abilities to pre-book booths, and add a premium experience in there.

Historically, Bar 72 has not been a hospitality product, rather a space for season ticket holders. So that will be a new distinction for us, as we move the management of the space out of our ticket office into our hospitality team. That means every client now has a dedicated account manager with service levels taking it up a notch, both on matchday and outside of matchday.

What we’ve been careful to do is not rip it up and bring in something that doesn’t fit. But at the same time, we wanted to evolve the experience, whilst keeping the heritage to the 1972 European Cup Winners Cup Final, which is the one we won in Barcelona. The space is really a testimony to that famous night for the club, when they won their only European trophy, and we want that theme to remain, but to be modernised to a degree.

The Blue Sky Lounge is really exciting as it allows us to increase the capacity of not only the lounge, but also the stadium. The way it’s currently constructed is there’s a number of boxes built inside the lounge so that you actually sit behind the glass. What we’re actually going to do is knock all of those out and install 364 premium seats (proper premium, padded seats). And in doing so, it also allows us to increase the capacity of general admission seats. I think we get around another 100, plus it means we can add an accessible area or wheelchair platform, which is something much needed in the stadium and indeed for our supporters.

How do you think hospitality will evolve over the next two to three years?

It’s all about providing a choice, and we are seeing a change in consumer/client habits.

Rangers has a set of quite traditional corporate clients who like to come to the stadium at midday on a Saturday when the game kicks off at 3:00pm. They sit down at a table with a white tablecloth and enjoy a very traditional type of dining experience, but I think as consumer habits and society changes, there is a need for a different experience. There’s a need to modernise, to offer different choices for people who haven’t always necessarily got the time to spend seven or eight hours at the stadium. We just need to evolve with the consumption habits of our clients.

What we do, we do well, which is the traditional, high-end hospitality experience. But where we need to evolve is the modernising of the hospitality experience that can cater for a slightly different business/young professional type of demographic that might want to experience matchday in a different and more informal way, but still get a premium experience at the same time.

One of the areas we’re also looking at is the current mega store at Ibrox. If we move it into the new facility at Edmiston House, it gives us a blank canvas to create what could be further relaxed, sports-bar types of experiences.

Some of the supporters I’ve spoken to have actually said, “We quite like the informal nature. We just go in. We get a beer. We’ve got fantastic seats.” The Bar 72 seats are some of the best in the stadium. So we’ve thought to ourselves, as we evolve, elevate, and enhance that experience, hopefully what we’ll be able to do within Project 2022 is offer a more relaxed, casual experience that justifies that full spectrum of hospitality choice.

Learn from James Bisgrove at this year’s ALSD International event taking place over October 12-13 at Liverpool Football Club’s Anfield Stadium. Visit ALSDInternational.com for registration details.

This interview content has been reproduced courtesy of Sports Venue Business.


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