With unfortunate timing inconsistent with a season in which things have clicked mostly into place, Hibernian yesterday launched a new share issue designed to increase fans’ stake in the club while raising funds for head coach Alan Stubbs.
The announcement was delivered the morning after the night before, when Hibs’ hopes of securing an automatic return to the Premiership received a blow with a surprise 3-0 home defeat by Morton.
They now trail leaders Rangers by eight points and may need to rely on winning a play-off to avoid a third season of second-tier football, with the financial ramifications this entails. The club will not have the comfort of a parachute payment should they remain in the Championship next season.
But chief executive Leeann Dempster remains confident fans will see past what Stubbs described as a “blip” to continue investing in the club and ensure continued player investment, as well as help convince the head coach to stay. “For me it is all about belonging,” Dempster said with regard to the new share issue. She is hopeful that Stubbs, who is contracted until the end of the 2016-17 campaign, will feel the same whatever happens this season.
Former Celtic striker John Hartson, among others, has proposed Stubbs as the ideal replacement for Ronny Deila at Celtic should the Norwegian’s tenure come to an end in the summer.
“He [Stubbs] has signed a new deal,” said Dempster. “It might feel like a hundred years ago because there is so much happening at the club.
“We have put together a great team of people. We are still in the Championship. We want to get out of the Championship. There is something working at this club – working well. Alan and the guys are a massive part of it. The longer we can keep that as the case, the stronger we will become.”
Dempster assured fans that the money raised will be invested where they most want to see it – on the pitch.
“We used the term ‘sporting ambition’ last time,” she said. “Supporters wanted to know what that meant. Hopefully we have demonstrated over the transfer windows and this season [what it meant]. Alan continually says ‘quality not quantity’ – that is the mantra. The money they have put directly into the club has helped us do that.”
“It gives us real confidence in the transfer market to know they are behind us,” she added, with reference to the fans. “It allows us to do things we might not otherwise be allowed to do in terms of the quality we are seeing on the field. I am not one to comment on on-field outcomes, but obviously we are going through a better period. That is being helped largely by everyone at the club coming together, and that includes the fans as well.”
The new share issue has been activated with ease of use in mind following complaints that the previous process was overly complicated for individual potential shareholders, who found they required the services of an independent finanical adviser. Now fans can apply for shares directly on the club’s own website.
The original share issue, which ended in August last year, combined with the on-going efforts of supporter ownership vehicle Hibernian Supporters Limited, still raised £500,000.
Currently just over 20 per cent of the club is supporter owned. Dempster emphasised the board’s commitment to offering fans the opportunity to take their stake to 51 per cent – a controlling interest. How close they get to this figure this time around, only time will tell. The latest Shares Direct scheme is open until the end of June with Dempster hoping Hibs can raise at least another £500,000 again. The HSL scheme remains open.
“We are at 20.5 per cent [fan ownership] just now,” Dempster said. “If you put a figure on it you set yourself up to fail.
“We achieved £500,000 with a process that was not the easiest process for people to participate in. I would be hopeful we would be pushing for at least that. If there is a big take-up we will think about continuing it.”
The minimum purchase is £200 while the maximum is £10,000. Those wishing to invest larger sums are asked to contact the club “for an individual conversation, as always is the case”. Dempster added: “This is not about individuals dominating the club, it is about more supporters becoming involved – it has been designed in that way.”
“We want a broad ownership of supporters,” she continued. “The main thing it is about is belonging to the club, protecting it. You are part of it going forward. There are many motivations to get involved.
“For many it might be about going to a game, watching it and going home again – they won’t want to do this. But for others coming to the AGM and getting to ask questions will be a motivating factor. I like to think we are accessible anyway but there is a formal element of being able to come to an AGM and ask questions that is appealing.”
More information is available at www.hibernianfc.co.uk/shares