Ron Gordon: Hibs keen to pilot scheme for alcohol at football grounds as owner calls for league brand enhancement
Looking to enhance the match-day experience, Hibs owner Ron Gordon is keen to pilot a scheme that would allow fans to enjoy alcohol at a stadium.
Insisting there are many ways in which Scottish football can learn from counterparts around the globe, as well as other sports, as it works to enhance the matchday experience, the Peru-born US-based entrepreneur says he is aware of past issues but says clubs have far more controls.
At the moment, only those who buy up hospitality packages are permitted to drink within stadia on match days but, of the opinion that football is unfairly characterised by those in authority, he says he would love the opportunity to trial a carefully-monitored lifting of the alcohol ban.
“I find it a little strange,” said Gordon. “I understand that there is a legacy reason here and I know that there were problems in the past but I honestly feel we are well beyond that now. Clubs can certainly manage and monitor and make sure that things are done correctly. I would love to see us be able to have a beer at the game without letting it get out of hand. I think we are one of the very few countries that doesn't allow it.”
The recent fall-out from Rangers’ title celebrations, where fans of the Glasgow club caused chaos and damage in the city centre as they partied and attracted widespread condemnation from the Scottish Government, will cause many to dismiss Gordon’s plans but he believes that the initiative would give clubs a wide range of controls that currently don’t exist.
He also does not believe that every football supporter should be tarred with the same brush.
“I understand the concern but I also think it can be managed and done correctly and I think all of the clubs would be in favour of at least having a trial and seeing how it works. If it works well and we put in all the controls we need then we can take it from there but I would love to at least get an opportunity to try it.
“I think it is part of the game-day experience. People are still having their beer now, they are just not having it at the stadium. They are having it at the pub and then turning up two minutes before the game. That doesn't help the atmosphere. We would love to create the platform for a game-day production and we would absolutely be up for piloting that. We would put the right controls in because we want things to not get out of hand but I think we can absolutely do that because the majority of supporters behave and they know how to do that. There will always be some unruly supporters but if we can control that then we will be in good shape.”
As well as strong stewarding, the right messaging and far more advanced CCTV and monitoring, there would also be restrictions put in place to prevent anyone going overboard. In other countries there are limits to how many drinks can be purchased, and set cut-off points.
“Even in the US, at half time, that’s it, no more beer. So, at Hibs, we can put necessary controls in so that it works. If we are given the opportunity, we would open up an hour or two hours before the game and by half time that’s it done and no more until after the game. Then people can go wherever.”
The option to enjoy a drink and socialise prior to kick-off is just one of several initiatives being looked at by the Easter Road club.
“One of our ambitions is to enhance the match-day experience and, to some degree, produce the game. It is not just the 90 minutes of football but producing the whole show,” added Gordon, whose business background is in media, communications and production. “To some degree sport is entertainment. We want to enhance the supporter journey, to create anticipation, create excitement and give them a sense of something special, a celebration of the club, of Hibs and of football.
“We have several things happening at Easter Road which I think will be great for fans, like putting in a new audio system so that the stadium sounds fantastic, and digital screens which will improve the game-day experience. We are also designing new kiosks with better products. That is the initial phase. Then we will look at what else we can do.”
And, despite some of the negative headlines generated in recent weeks, he believes critics should consider the whole picture before passing unfair judgement, while the sport needs to start sticking up for itself.
“I do think that football does a lot of wonderful things but, unfortunately, that doesn't always come through. It is incumbent on us as part of the league and as individual clubs to make sure that the brand of the league is one that is positive.
“We should be a source of pride for our communities and our supporters and at Hibs, through the community foundation, we do a lot of good work. All the clubs have very active community trusts, but all that is missed.
“There’s also the promotion of wellbeing through sports and that is something that is really, really positive so, sometimes, I do think we, meaning football, are painted with big, broad strokes and people forget, or don’t realise, all the good things football does.
“I would like the league to see what we can do to enhance the brand and how it is perceived, particularly by authorities. I think the government needs to see us as partners because there are many things that football can do to support government initiatives around mental health, wellbeing, academics, and healthy living. I don’t know if there is a passion point in Scotland as strong as football. To do things through football clubs could be a very important catalyst.”