Hearts evaluation: Club's performance, in the boardroom, on the balance sheet and in the community
All factions of Heart of Midlothian Football Club have come under scrutiny of late, an inevitable consequence of the team’s underperformance in recent years.
Supporters are keen to see improvement in many different departments even though Hearts won this season’s Scottish Championship title. They will rejoin the Premiership this summer aiming to restore themselves as a major challenger.
Signings and recruitment have been debated, whilst off-the-field matters like board decisions and fan engagement became hot topics at times.
Hearts will become a fan-owned club when current chairwoman Ann Budge passes her 75.1 per cent majority shareholding to the supporter-led group Foundation of Hearts. That transaction is expected to take place at some point before the end of the year.
So what condition is the club in ahead of such a decisive and radical move?
The Evening News spoke to Mark Donaldson a prominent Hearts supporter currently working as a broadcaster and commentator for the American sports network ESPN. Mark grew up in and around Edinburgh and has followed the Gorgie club all his life. He answered the following questions:
How does your club engage with supporters groups and the wider fanbase? Are there regular conversations and meetings with independent groups or trusts?
“I think there’s a reasonable engagement with supporters groups and the wider fanbase. It seems, from afar where I’m viewing from, that the Foundation of Hearts welcomes direct communication with supporters and is willing to pass on any constructive comments or recommendations to the board of the football club. Season 2020/21 has been difficult, especially with no fans in attendance, and it’s been hard for many to find a platform to air their grievances – vitriolic abuse, however, has no place in society, never mind in football.”
EEN score: Fairly strong. 7/10.
What are the lines of communication between people in power and the supporters? Are there regular updates and statements? Do they come via official or unofficial channels? How well does the club use social media and newsletters?
“When Ann Budge took over there were regular updates from her on the official Hearts website. While it doesn’t appear these are now as frequent, it’s rare for the club not to provide a comment when one is required. Many clubs are far worse when it comes to communication with their fanbase. Certain Hearts fans need to realise that while they may not agree with the contents of certain statements or communication, at least they’re being kept in the loop with the club trying to be as transparent as possible.”
EEN score: Quieter of late but overall fair. 7/10.
Do fans have a say in the key decision-making at your club? Is there any fan representation on the board?
“Certainly far more than at most other clubs. Fan-owned but not fan-run is important, otherwise we’d probably be looking for a new manager following every defeat! The one thing I would like to see is suitable Gen Y/Millenial representation at either board level or just below. It appears from the outside looking in that fresh young ideas are missing and a significant section of the younger Hearts support is not sufficiently represented.”
EEN score: Pretty well represented. 8/10.
Community and partnerships
The community link-up is vital for our clubs – how does yours fare? Charity and Foundation work? Supporting grassroots organisations and sport clubs?
“Big Hearts, the club’s official charity, does a fantastic job. In the 36 years that I’ve been a supporter of Heart of Midlothian, I have always been proud of the various charity work carried out by both members of staff at the club and also the many volunteers.”
EEN score: Outstanding. 10/10.
Diversity and inclusivity
Is there a women’s team? If so, how integrated are they? How diverse is the boardroom and executive team?
“There is a women’s team and news about them regularly appears in the ‘Latest News’ section on the official Hearts website. A quick glance at the ‘Board’ page on the website – https://www.heartsfc.co.uk/more/club/board – suggests that the addition of one or two younger people may help freshen things up while better representing the club’s younger fanbase, in addition to providing fresh ideas when it comes to both technology and fan interaction.”
EEN score: Pretty good. 8/10.
Is there transparency of ownership - who is on the board, who owns majority shareholding? Are decisions made with full transparency?
“It appears, again from the outside looking in, that there’s complete transparency of ownership. And there’s always communication from the top when key decisions are made.”
EEN score: Very good. 9/10.
Is the club in a strong financial position? Notwithstanding Covid repercussions, are there any issues around the club’s finances that cause concern – sustainability of club, debt, loans, spending, wages to turnover ratio, company assets leveraged, accounts published in full?
“As Sports Editor at Radio Forth, I reported on the club from the Leslie Deans/Chris Robinson era in the 90s through the rollercoaster Vladimir Romanov era in the mid 2000s. When Romanov was in charge, the wages to turnover ratio was more than 100 per cent – double what is suggested – and it was clearly an unsustainable model. Thankfully the club has cut its cloth accordingly under Ann Budge’s stewardship and I feel far happier than the club is now in good hands financially. Now the spending of cash on squad additions, however, is a different matter because it seems that a lot of it has been wasted due to poor player recruitment. That must improve going forward, while the lack of young talent graduating into the first-team squad in the past few years is also a concern.”
EEN score: Player budget must be used better. 6/10.
*Our Hibs evaluation will take place at the end of their season