Leeann Dempster is confident that Hibs supporters will embrace the opportunity to have a greater say in the running of their club.
After acknowledging a breakdown in relationship between fans and club when she arrived at Easter Road almost eight months ago, the chief executive has been at the forefront of plans to increase supporter ownership from two per cent to 51 per cent.
Following a host of discussions in recent months, Dempster has detected an appetite for increased supporter involvement at Easter Road and believes Hibs have come up with the best possible mechanism to make such a prospect become reality.
“I think it is a proposition that will excite supporters, I am certain of that,” she said. “We know this is what they want. They have told us that. They want a deeper relationship and we are offering them that. We have a good group of people on board to help us deliver that as well.”
Supporters, who can contribute from £18.75 per month to be involved in the scheme, will be required to come up with £2.5million in order to obtain the 51 per cent shareholding. Hibernian Supporters Limited (HSL) was launched yesterday as a vehicle to facilitate the buying of shares and ultimately enabling the holding company’s 98 per cent interest to be diluted to below 50 per cent.
Dempster explained that no timescale has been put on the process and that no specific targets have been set with regard to how many people must back the scheme in order for it to work. “We have talked about [numbers] and are not setting ourselves any early targets,” she said. “We said that the position is there should supporters wish to take it. I am sure the minute it opens you guys will be asking the question how many people are getting involved. These conversations we can have from the 2nd of February.
“But we are confident we can be successful.
“Supporters decide themselves at the end of the day [if they will own the club]. We are empowering them. We get to that number where they take a majority decision and then they decide how to take that forward.
“We’ll see what the desire is when it opens. It’s like many other things, if there’s an overwhelming desire it will happen quickly. It may not happen that quickly, then we take a point in time, but it’s not just about the club, it’s about Hibernian Supporters Ltd, the people involved in that. The decisions will be made democratically. I think we’re moving at pace on a number of fronts at the club and this is yet another good announcement.”
Dempster believes that the drive towards fan ownership can have a unifying effect on a club which has become fragmented in recent times. Indeed, she feels that the fact Charlie Reid, the Hibs-supporting Proclaimers star who backed protests against chairman Rod Petrie last summer, has now put his name behind the proposals for fan ownership is evidence that the dissenters can be won over.
“It is all about rebuilding the trust between supporters and the club,” she said. “I said as well that we have to recognise that the club over time has done many great things. We also have to recognise the strength of feeling the supporters had at the end of last season. For me it is about rebuilding that trust with everybody – whether it be with supporters who have been particularly strong in their opinion or not. We have got collectively a good group of people and the reality is that the proposition is a strong one. It is a unifying force – that is a powerful position.
“When you start having the conversation with people and being quite clear and honest then conversations develop from there. I am very hopeful it will be successful.”