OCTOBER 2018 DINNER MEETING
We welcomed as our guests for the evening Hearts CEO and Chair Ann Budge and Head of Planning at Hearts Jonathan Tink. Before taking questions from the large attendance, Ann took the opportunity to update us on a number of points both on and off the field. The on field news was all good. As we all knew Hearts are top of the league by six points and in the League Cup semi final to be played on Sunday in front of a crowd of over 60,000 at Murrayfield. In other words we have made the best start to a season for a number of years. In business terms she had to be bit careful, as the annual accounts to the year June 2018 are not out yet. She could divulge however that we have had a good year business wise. Despite playing four of our games at Murrayfield, and opening a new stand in November, we still manged to grow our turnover by over £1million to over £12million. This was slightly ahead of budget AND we made a profit. For the current year we have budgeted for a further increase in turnover, growing our turnover by 15% which will take us up to a turnover of circa £14million. There will be more details available with the publication of the annual accounts and at the Club AGM on 18th December. Ann said she was delighted to say that despite the challenges, the Club continues to invest in both the Academy and Performance School. Ann then went on to update the audience on the Tynecastle Redevelopment Project. The New Stand is now fully operational in terms of match days and supporter facilities and believes that our stadium is getting better and better. She advised that there was a change in development priorities during 2018 and slowed down the project once the Supporters Bar and the Nursery were delivered. This was partly because the Club needed a ‘breather’ and partly because we needed to manage our cash flow. However, work has continued where the supporters don’t really see…we have an amazing state of the art plant room, for example, and work is ongoing in the changing rooms, police facilities, etc. under the stand. There is also a new TV studio….and of course, an absolutely fabulous new pitch. The plan is to finish off some critical work…such as replacing boilers and pipework, and painting floors and ceilings and all sorts…between now and Christmas. The drawings for the 2nd floor and the Restaurant will be completed by then also, and work will be ramped up once again in January on the upper floors of the New Stand. It is going to take all of this financial year to June 2019 to finish off the major works…and possibly into next year. The total cost of all the stadium work, including the new pitch will be around £18million all of the cost is funded However it will be all worth it.
Following Ann’s statement there was an active Question and Answer session.
A summary of the answers was as follows:
The floodlights have been on during daylight matches in good weather conditions purely as a test to make sure they are correctly positioned to cover the whole pitch correctly.
The new dressing rooms are on hold for the moment. This is simply because they do not bring in revenue and therefore areas of the redevelopment which attract revenue take precedence. The players will start to appear from the New Stand in April. Ann added that they wanted ice baths in the new changing rooms! She did mention that although not really required , the tunnel in the Wheatfield Stand would remain.
Ann is keen to open the new restaurant on the top floor. She will look to have corporate annual membership of this area. She hopes that the restaurant, which will have an outside terrace, will be open by next summer. Other points she made were that the Gorgie Suite will remain as it is a very versatile large space and the fans really like it. A row of syndicate rooms will be built in the new stand with a great view of the Foundation Plaza , all with partitions to allow for different room sizes to cater for meetings/functions all with catering facilities available. The Directors Suite will be moved upstairs.
A question was asked about why there was empty seats in the stadium when the matches were a sell out. The answer was that this may well be an area allocated for corporate customers but not sold, also the area allocated to the singing section has not been fully taken up.
League Cup Semi Final at Murrayfield. Over 28000 seats have been sold with expectations of more sales in the next two days as people received end of month salaries.
The impact of Brexit came up. Ann was unsure of the exact problems which would emanate from this issue. At the moment it is much easier to sign players from Europe and she hoped that the paperwork of signing players from other parts of the world could be avoided.
There is still an issue about the elderly finding their way to their seats at the back of the New Stand. The ticket Office can help by re allocating more accessible seats and the problem will solve itself when the new stairways and exits are completed.
The semi final debacle naturally came up. The SPFL were contracted to play both matches at Hampden. When Ann went to the meeting with the SPFL and the Clubs involved she expected common sense to prevail. It didn’t. Proposals were put forward to play one of the matches on another date, the winter break was mentioned for example. Hearts agreed to this but Celtic did not, and due to the Old Firm being involved in Europe it seemed impossible to allocate another date. The police were not happy about having four sets of fans in the one city and it appeared that the Rail Companies had not been consulted. Eventually a solution was found to play one of the games at Murrayfield. While agreeing that the SPFL had not covered themselves in glory over this matter, Ann was not of the view that Neil Doncaster should lose his job as he, in her opinion, he does a very difficult job well.
Ann was asked what the financial implications would be if we were to remain at the top of the League at the end of the season. She replied that the financial benefits would be huge for the Club. First of all the financial difference between finishing first instead of fourth is as much as £2million added to significant financial benefits from playing in the Champions League. It could secure the financial future of the Club for many years to come.
The health of Craig Levein came up. Ann said that he was a lot better but trying to slow down a bit. He had been sitting in the stand for the game against Livingston. As the match was not going well, Ann wondered how long before he goes down to the pitch, which turned out to be not long. She added that we have a very strong management team, Roger Arnott manages the Academy, while Craig concentrates on the First Team ably assisted by Austin McPhee, Jon Daly and Liam Fox.
Asked about a new TV deal for the League, Ann advised that all Clubs are consulted and the process is underway. The Clubs vote on the chosen new deal.
The future income from FOH pledges will be ring fenced and used for the benefit of the Club. It most definitely will not be squandered
Jonathan Tink went over the arrangements for the special centenary of WW1 Remembrance Service. After the Haymarket service we will walk to Tynecastle where there will be a number of events. All details are on the Hearts web site. Over 750 people have registered their interest.
John Soutter’s tragic injury in the Scottish international against Israel came up. John was due to have an operation today (25/10). He was in good spirits. Ann advised he was a very sensible man and a real hard worker.
Asked why she had been voted off the SPFL board, Ann replied that Directors were voted on for one year only, resulting in difficulties with long term planning. The smaller Clubs are continually complaining about little representation and not getting their opinions heard, although there are now two smaller Clubs on the Board.
Asked who was her best appointment that she has ever made for the Club, she quickly answered Craig Levein. Craig is essential to the Club as she cannot run a football club. Someone experienced as a Director of Football is necessary.
At the end of the Question and Answer session, Ann and Jonathan were given a cheering round of applause to bring the meeting to an end.