HAVING suffered the trauma of going into administration twice and being demoted to the Third Division within the past decade, Livingston have a keener understanding than most clubs of what it takes to survive the consequences of the kind of financial mismanagement Hearts are now trying to deal with..
As they announced a new three-year stadium and shirt sponsorship deal yesterday, the West Lothian club believe they are finally emerging successfully from dark days and making serious progress towards a brighter and more stable future.
Crucial to the restoration work which has been undertaken at Livingston since their second insolvency event in 2009 has been the input of their supporters, most notably the Livi For Life Trust which now have representation on the club’s board.
But, as the Foundation of Hearts supporters group seeks to take control of the Tynecastle club, there is a warning from Livingston chief executive Ged Nixon that there has to be a limit to the amount of influence fans have at boardroom level.
He is hugely sympathetic to the Hearts support, which he claims has been “defrauded” by the Vladimir Romanov regime, but insists majority fan ownership of the club is not viable.
“Personally, I don’t see it working at Hearts,” said Nixon. “It already seems to be a struggle at Dundee, with people working with their hands tied behind their backs to some degree. Ultimately, someone needs to call the shots and make decisions for better or for worse. If you get that right, then it possibly could work. But I have yet to see signs of it working in this country.
“Fan involvement, rather than ownership, is the way forward. That is what we have done at Livingston, we have progressively introduced it here. The Livi For Life Trust have made significant contributions since we came in. That has been paid back by way of support and working on matchdays for us. It has a monetary value to it and is turned into shares.
“They have now realised a significant shareholding in the club. That has grown, but ultimately we, as owners of the club, have to say: ‘This is what we are looking for, can you help us?’. Your reward will be shares in 12 months’ time. We think it has worked for us. It has been hard work, I have to say.
“Hearts will sort themselves out. They are a massive club and they will get over the line. But to have fans running it from top to bottom? I’m not quite sure how that will work. There has to be a reward for the fans this time, of course there has. You can’t just keep going to the well and asking them for money, which is what Hearts have done for a considerable time now. You lose goodwill. Ultimately, the Hearts supporters have been defrauded to some degree. That’s unfair.
“Now they have got closure as to where things stand with their club. Unfortunately, the club need to turn to the Hearts fans again but at least they know this time that they are helping themselves as much as the club, which hasn’t been the case previously.
“I’m sure they will turn it around. There are some good people working at that club. I sincerely wish them all the best. We have been at Livingston for four years now and we are minimal, compared to Heart of Midlothian. But I know how much time and effort which has been spent by everyone at Livingston to turn things around. We were hamstrung with fixed term contracts for players. We were spending the sort of wages to turnover ratio percentage that Hearts had. We have endured a lot of pain and and are now starting to come out of the other side. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
“We have cut our budget again this year, but this time we know it gets us over the line in terms of keeping income and expenditure on an evel keel. We had to change the way we were operating, or we would have found ourselves in bother again.
“I can’t see Hearts being the last club to fall. A year ago, Rangers fell and have been followed by Hearts. There are other clubs in distressed situations. It is not something you can turn around overnight. If you find yourself in a distressed situation, you can’t just stop and try something else. You have duties and obligations to honour contracts. If you get it wrong, it is sometimes three or four years before you can right that wrong.”
Livingston’s new sponsorship deal will see another name change for their Almondvale Stadium, which now becomes the Energy Assets Arena. The club’s new shirts also bear the logo of Energy Assets Group, a local Livingston firm who are the leading independent provider of gas metering services to the UK industrial and commercial sector. Nixon declined to disclose the financial details of the deal but it has come as a major relief to the club.
“We were a bit nervous at the end of the season when we lost our previous sponsors,” he said. “We are not used to going into the marketplace, so we were worried about whether we would be able to secure anything and, if so, at what level.
“We had quite a bit of interest, some people just dipping their toes in. Then halfway through the process, Energy Assets came in and said they wanted to speak to us. They said they wanted to do the whole thing. It was fantastically exciting and they are a very switched on company. We are delighted with the level of recompense we are receiving for their sponsorship of the stadium and the shirts. It is performance-related, if we manage to achieve play-off positions or promotion. An added bonus is that they will look at the whole energy performance of the stadium too. You wouldn’t believe fuel bills here. They think they can reduce those costs and improve the carbon footprint of the stadium as well, so it’s a very innovative sponsorship.”