Exclusive - leading football finance expert runs rule over Foley’s Hibs bid
Taken at face value, Bournemouth owner Bill Foley becoming a minority shareholder in Hibs makes a lot of sense. But is it a win-win scenario for both parties? Or a zero-sum game, complete with both winners and losers?
If there is no doubt that the American billionaire knows what he’s doing when it comes to building a stable of successful sports ‘franchises’, the exact details of where Hibs fit into his multi-club ownership model will determine whether his investment is accepted by the current board.
Renowned football finance expert Kieran Maguire, author of Unfit and Improper Persons: An Idiot’s Guide To Owning A Football Club, believes Foley is one of the better owners in the English game.
He certainly sees substance in Foley’s vision of Hibs establishing themselves as best of the rest in the Scottish Premiership, just on the shoulder of the Old Firm – but well clear of, just to choose an example at random, city rivals Hearts.
Maguire also believes Hibs fans would be right to protest any suggestion that they become a “feeder club” for Bournemouth, who he calls the “mother ship” in a sporting portfolio that also includes Ligue 1 side Lorient and, in ice hockey, the Stanley Cup-winning Las Vegas Knights.
But, citing other multi-club examples around the world of football, he said: “If you look to see what Brighton did with their partnership with Union Saint-Gilloise, the Belgian club got into the Champions League qualifiers.
“And Brighton got Kaoru Mitoma, among other players, to gain experience and come through to the first team. There are very definite advantages to both clubs in this sort of deal.”
Asked about Foley’s assertion that it wouldn’t take much to turn a club like Hibs into the undisputed third force in Scottish football, complete with guaranteed European football every year, Maguire said: “I think that’s very possible. I agree entirely with what he’s said on this.
“We know that the top two places – certainly the top one place – in Scottish football are taken.
“There then isn’t a lot of difference, financially, between the next four or five clubs, with the two Edinburgh teams and Aberdeen the next strongest. There’s nothing between them.
“So a nudge in the right direction might be all it takes. And, if you are regularly finishing third in the SPFL, which means getting into the Europa League Conference at the very least, you’re going to be making money out of reaching the group stages of a UEFA competition.
“So what do Hibs get out of this? The classic answer is, of course, that it depends.
“But you could say they’ll get access to more up-to-date training methods, information exchanges, the sort of tie-in that has been done more informally in the past.
“The advantages of the multi-club ownership model is consistency across the board. You’ve got what we call revenue synergies, meaning you can go to a potential sponsor and say: ‘I can offer you three clubs for a shirt deal, some other deal.’ That can be quite attractive. Manchester City have done that very well.
“As for why anyone would choose a Scottish club, it’s a relatively cheap market to buy into, from a club investment point of view.
“You’ve got a relatively simple pathway into England, which is the Championship and Premier League, both profitable markets for selling players. So those are positives for anyone looking to buy into a Scottish club.
“There are also chances to get into Europe, which increases the profile of players, so there are pathway reasons.”
Like all businessmen, Foley will want to see a return on his investment. Buying sports teams – he’s a preferred bidder for a new A-League franchise, as well – may be his hobby. But he doesn’t just throw money away.
“From his point of view at Bournemouth, which I guess would be the mother ship if they’re in the Premier League, it offers more than you might think,” said Maguire.
“If you have consistency of training, sports science and development, you can use Hibs as a holding area.
“So you have a player who shows promise but he’s not quite ready for the first team. You want this player to get match time and he’s not getting that by playing with the under-21s in the EFL Cup.
“Hibs offer competitive football and decent crowds, so the player can get used to an environment where they’ll be playing in big games.
“It could well be that the players he wants for Bournemouth don’t have a work permit. You bring them to Hibernian, who are qualifying for the Europa League or Conference League.
“In terms of the governing body endorsement points, that helps – and you now have a player with a pathway through to the Premier League.
“So there are advantages in the model. As long as you’re not seen as just a feeder club.
“That would rile the fans, especially at a club as proud as Hibernian, if they were seen as a feeder for – no disrespect to Bournemouth – a club who don’t have anything like their heritage or history in the game.”