Brian Donnelly: State of economy hits supporters' ability to attend matches

Brian Donnelly: Scottish football clubs face 'austerity' pressures <i>(Image: Herald Business)</i>
Brian Donnelly: Scottish football clubs face 'austerity' pressures (Image: Herald Business)

THE backers of Scotland’s football clubs range from fund managers to fan shareholders.

Scottish football clubs rely on a variety of funding sources ranging from foreign investment to fan ownership, but what shape are they in financially now after a pandemic that brought the biggest shutdown of its kind?

At one point doors were closed altogether. Then games were played in empty stadiums where attempts were made to drown out the hollow echo with the unsettling sound of canned fans cheering from nowhere.

There were worries about ever being able to return.

So when the post-pandemic financial results were posted there was encouragement for some.

In our three-part series this week, we showed how Rangers unveiled record revenues which had risen from £53.2 million in pre-pandemic 2019 to £86.8m in 2022, and Celtic moved from a 2019 turnover of £83.4m to £88.2m in the last year.

Rangers booked an operating profit of £5.9m, swinging from a £27.6m loss, and Celtic a profit before tax of £6.1m, against an £11.5 loss before tax in 2021.

HeraldScotland: Clubs under the spotlight included Hibernian, Hearts, Celtic and Rangers
HeraldScotland: Clubs under the spotlight included Hibernian, Hearts, Celtic and Rangers

Clubs under the spotlight included Hibernian, Hearts, Celtic and Rangers (Image: Newsquest)

We told how the loyalty of investors and fans is the foundation of Scottish football clubs but that there are fresh pressures from planned legislation on banning alcohol sponsorship that threatens “grave consequences” in the sport.

Ron Gordon, the US businessman who took over the Sir Tom Farmer Hibs interest in 2019, said: “The state of the economy affects the ability of supporters to attend matches.”

The cost-of-living squeeze may deter some people from spending extra on hospitality or merchandise, said one Scottish economist, but he added that the commitment of supporters and investors in football clubs is of great depth.

Clubs also play a key role in communities in Scotland, according to one former chairman, who said that the match-day experience can be a form of escapism in difficult times and that clubs with training academies also offer a route for young hopefuls to carve a career in football.

Part One: Rangers roar back with record revenue, but 'grave' concerns over alcohol ban plan

Part Two: Celtic hail record trading gains, former director who saved club warns on austerity

Part Three: Capital clubs bounce back with profits, investing in stadiums and a boutique hotel

Today, we also celebrate the achievements Hearts and Hibs fans, both of whom helped their clubs return a profit and both of whom have strived to have a say in how their club is run, working hard to support the organisations, with the Tynecastle club now the UK’s biggest fan-owned club, while Hibernian Supporters Limited, an organisation made up of 4,000 members, has pumped £583,000 into the club in the last three years and now owns 15.4 per cent of the shares.

So, many clubs are back on an even keel and some say there is greater appetite for the game after a taste of life without the terraces, but what will be the bedrock of their future?

Surely it must be the dedication of those who give their support in any, even small, way.

Elsewhere, business editor Ian McConnell recounts the position taken by Andrew Malcolm, who this week picked up an outstanding contribution award for Malcolm Group at The Herald’s Scottish Family Business Awards.

Mr Malcolm had said: “My job in life is to protect the workforce I have got.”

Also this week, Scottish manufacturer Sunamp has secured multi-million pound backing to develop a household energy system using thermal storage batteries to tackle periods of low renewables generation on the grid.

The East Lothian firm is to receive £9.25m in support of the project which is expected to progress with a trial initially across 100 homes, writes Kristy Dorsey.