HEARTS have announced a ground-breaking partnership with a world-renowned charity that will see the Tynecastle club carry the Save the Children logo on their home and away shirts for the next three seasons.
Hearts-supporting business contacts of owner Ann Budge contacted her to ask if their planned investment in the club could be married to a philanthropic project. The result is an innovative tie-up that ensures Hearts and Save the Children together will receive what Budge described as “a significant seven-figure sum” over three years. The exact amount is believed to be around £1.5 million.
Budge hopes the venture will further improve Hearts’ image. Late last year they became the first club in British senior football to commit to paying staff a living wage. Hearts are now leading the way by carrying the name of a national charity on their shirts. No other British club have done this to date. Barcelona sported UNICEF on their tops for five years from 2006 while also donating to the children’s charity. Italian club Fiorentina carried the Save the Children logo on their shirts until recently.
Budge was thrilled that what she termed “the magic formula of football” was being used to enhance the lives of children.
A separate donation from the Edinburgh-based group of benefactors, who offered their financial support on the condition they remained anonymous, will also benefit the Big Hearts Trust for their work in the local community.
But Hearts’ intentions are not solely charitable – Budge admitted that the investment exceeds any comparable deal signed in the club’s history.
“It’s the biggest deal we’ve ever done.”Ann Budge
“It gives everybody associated with the business that degree of certainty for the next there years,” she said.
“It’s the biggest deal we’ve ever done. I cannot talk about all the other clubs because I just don’t know. But I’m told that it’s on a par with some of the bigger deals being done in Scotland in the past. It’s excellent.”
On the subject of the anonymous benefactors, she added: “We had a couple of meetings. I mentioned the fact that it would be nice if we could have a shirt sponsor that underpinned what the club stood for. They came back with this suggestion and I was bowled over quite frankly. I thought it was an amazing suggestion. It suited all of our purposes.”
Budge’s principal aim is to continue mending the club’s reputation after several torrid years under the ownership of controversial Russian-born Lithuanian businessman Vladimir Romanov.
“It’s definitely been one of our objectives because in the business world in particular we had lost a lot of goodwill,” she said. “A number of businesses didn’t like what was going on at the club and had withdrawn support. So we had to work really hard to re-establish relationships with the business community. To a certain extent, the same was true of supporters.
“A lot of supporters had not bought season tickets or stopped coming and it was because of what they saw the club standing for at that time. It was a very important priority for us to create new values and let people appreciate what we are trying to do.”
The club’s last shirt sponsor was the controversial payday loan company Wonga, whose logo adorned the Hearts top for three years. “It’s from the ridiculous to the sublime isn’t it?” noted Craig Levein, the club’s director of football yesterday. He added: “We can talk from now until midnight about things that have happened here in the recent past. There were some good things, but [also] a lot of things that have not displayed the club in a great light. I think we have some catching up to do.”
The team are wearing no sponsors on the home shirt this season after a special one-off kit was designed in tribute to members of the 1914-15 side who signed up with McCrae’s Battalion to fight in the First World War.
Although it preceded her time at the club, Budge admitted the tie-up with Wonga did not convey the family-friendly image she now wants for Hearts.
“It was not something I thought we could be proud of, if I could just put it that way,” she said. “That said, I feel I need to make the point that Wonga, as I understand it, was a very good business partner for the club. Clearly, I was not involved at that point. But I know that was said to me. So I am not criticising Wonga in that sense.
“But in terms of the message we are trying to promote and the values we are trying to promote, we had the opportunity to renew the contract last year for the away shirts and I took the decision not to.
“It was not what we wanted to promote and it would have gone against some of the things we would be saying so I am delighted we now have Save the Children and not Wonga.”
Budge added that she could not guarantee that Hearts could always be beyond reproach. Scottish football’s association with alcohol brands, for example, is so entrenched that it is difficult to avoid.
“The fact we promote these brands, well we can all understand why these brands are popular with football and why they have been so successful in the past,” she said. “So I am not decrying that for a second; in three years’ time I may well be talking to the same people. I am not trying to adopt the moral high ground. But right now I am saying if we can do more of this sort of thing then it can only be good for the game.
“The key is to make the point that there are different ways of achieving things.”
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