Introductory Remarks - AGM December 17th 2020
(Click HERE to view the 2020 AGM Minutes)
The unprecedented challenges that the world at large has faced during 2020, in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic taking hold, have been well-documented. For us, COVID-19 brought the 2019/20 football season and the majority of our business streams to an immediate halt early in March, 2020. Clearly, this negatively impacted our 2019/20 financial results and equally clearly, given that the world is still struggling to cope with the consequences of the pandemic, 2020/21 is likely to be even more severely impacted.
The Club took swift and decisive action at the onset of the virus. This action,coupled with the unwavering support of our staff, our fans, our sponsors and our benefactors helped us through one of our most difficult periods in recent times. We have every confidence that with this continued support, despite all of the uncertainties facing us, the future of our Club remains secure.
Financial year 2019/20 saw us cope not just with the direct impact of the pandemic, but also with the consequences of the “end the season” decision taken by the SPFL Board and its Member Clubs. This allowed the season to be ended early and in such a manner as to see fellow member clubs relegated, despite the season not having been completed. In so doing, further financial burdens were placed on ourselves and the other affected clubs.
Faced with this enforced expulsion from the Premier League and the consequential financial implications, the Board sought to have the decision over-turned on the grounds of Unfair Prejudice, initially in the Court of Session and subsequently, via the SFA Arbitration process. While the chances of success were always recognised as low, the Board was unwilling to allow what we, and indeed many others, perceived as an injustice, to go unchallenged. This action came at a cost, as shown in the accounts. However, we firmly believe that not to have raised this challenge could have cost the Club far more, in terms of supporter loyalty and our all-important reputation as Champions for openness, fairness, honesty and integrity.
A difficult year is now behind us and the actions we took saw us come through it well. This current year looks to offer even more challenges on the financial management front. However, we are in good shape and have plans in place to come through this, stronger than ever.
Before COVID-19 struck we were on course for another strong financial performance, showing year-on-year growth, despite a poor first half to the season on the football front.
- ·We were in the midst of major changes in the football department, having appointed Daniel Stendel as our new first-team manager. His early results were showing promise and his attacking style of play was going down very well with the fans.He had brought in a new coaching team and a number of new players to refresh/change the squad.
Daniel was here for less than 3 months when football was suspended. Daniel’s contract, and those of his coaching team, were built around Premier League football and his contract ended when we were expelled from that League.
- We had a Scottish Cup semi-final to look forward to.
Normally, this would have meant a great day out for the fans and generated around £1 million in income for the club, from a packed-out Hampden Park. Instead it was played out in front of empty stands at Hampden Park many months later than it should have been. However, it was a great win and we now have a Final to look forward to…on Sunday, 20th December, 2020.
- We were in the midst of a major recruitment programme aimed at further growing and developing the Club. We were looking to recruit a Head of Performance, a Chief Executive and a Sporting Director.
Our Head of Performance started 6 weeks before football was suspended. We had to put all other recruitment on hold during lock-down and beyond. This put our plans back by at least 6 months.
- We were on the cusp of the historic moment of becoming the largest fan-owned football club in the UK.
With lock-down and all of the other restrictions in place, the decision was taken to postpone the transfer of ownership until we could properly celebrate this great achievement. This has put plans back by approximately a year.
- Despite all the uncertainty and individual hardship, our supporters once again backed the Club in their thousands. We cannot thank them enough.
The numbers pledging to the Foundation of Hearts increased to a staggering 8,500. This meant the regular monthly contribution to the Club increased by more than £25,000.
Season ticket renewals reached an amazing 11,500, despite not knowing when football would return or even what League we would be playing in.
The Club has done all we can to show our appreciation of this support by offering alternative packages in the absence of attending games this season and the uptake by the fans has been amazing.
- Those staff, who were not furloughed, worked tirelessly to keep the business running in every way possible, to ensure we would be ready for re-opening whenever that might be and to come up with ideas for new revenue streams in an everchanging landscape of regulations.
As soon as restrictions allowed, we opened a bar in the Gorgie Suite which allowed us to facilitate social distancing. We also opened the Skyline Restaurant which rapidly became the #1 restaurant in Edinburgh on TripAdvisor, offering award-winning food and hospitality in safe surrounding. This is no mean feat in a City such as Edinburgh.
We improved our on-line ordering service for our retail operation; we introduced a click-and-collect service; and we opened as soon as it was possible to do so, in line with strict social distancing rules.
We carried out all essential maintenance, including pitch maintenance, to ensure all parts of the stadium would be capable of opening, when allowed, in accordance with regulations.
- Looking forward to the 20/21 Season, we took steps to put a team in place on the pitch that would have every chance, not just to win the Championship, but also to compete successfully in the Premier League on our return.
We brought Robbie Neilson back to Hearts. He brought with him Assistant Coaches, Gordon Forrest and Lee McCulloch, with whom he had previously achieved success. Robbie set about planning how to re-shape the squad, in time to make the changes that needed to be made during the summer transfer window.
- Our commitment to youth development and women’s football remain a core part of our strategy. Despite the challenges, our Academy continued to work with our boys and girls on a remote basis throughout lock-down and beyond, while preparing to bring them back at the earliest opportunity.
6 of our boys academy players signed their first professional contracts with the club in season 2019/20 and once again many of our academy players have played their part both in our first team and internationally during the year.
A major highlight during this difficult year, was to watch our Women’s team win their Division, achieving promotion to the top league. Many, many congratulations to all concerned. We continue to recruit and develop our own talent as we prepare for further success.
Our International Tournament which was planned for 2020 unfortunately had to be postponed due to the pandemic, but we look forward to hosting this once again when safe to do so.
Given that the 2019/20 accounts effectively cover 8 months of normal trading and 12 months of costs, we are very pleased to be able to say that we have achieved more-or-less break-even over the 12 month period. Our benefactors, once again, made a very generous donation to help with the costs associated with re-shaping the Playing Squad and continuing to build for the future. Similarly, other donations, including those from Foundation of Hearts, also helped us greatly in managing our affairs over this difficult period.
Our Turnover was down against the previous year by approximately £2.5million, coming in at just over £12 million. With a further quarter of normal trading, we would almost certainly have achieved the £15 million we budgeted.
Our prompt action, when Covid-19 hit, enabled us to manage both our staff costs and our overheads. We took full advantage of the Government’s Furlough scheme as clearly shown in the Profit and Loss account. The main exceptional cost item worthy of note relates to the legal costs associated with our legal action mentioned above.
The company’s balance sheet at 30 June 2020 remained strong with net assets of approximately £18 million.
Our cash inflow during the year was £1.8m. This arose through the generation of £0.8m from operating activities, receipts of £0.4m from the sale of players, in particular Jake Mulraney to Atlanta United FC, and the receipt of £1.5m additional funding from Bidco (1874) Ltd. This income was offset by payments made in connection with the purchase of fixed assets and new player registrations. We also continued to benefit from our ongoing partnership with Save the Children and the continued support from the Foundation of Hearts. During the year, the Foundation of Hearts continued to acquire future participation rights in the senior loan between Bidco (1874) Ltd and the company to the value of £890K, bringing total participation rights to £2.4m.
In summary, 2019/20 was a year like no other. It was a year of significant change and of unprecedented challenges. Clearly, 2020/21 is going to be equally challenging. For the first time in the last 6 years, our Annual Financial Plan predicts a loss. Given the huge number of uncertainties still facing us all, and the fact that no-one can say when the lifeblood of our business, our supporters, will be allowed back into games, it would be foolish to plan on any other basis. That said, we are in the hugely fortunate position of having a commitment to long-term financial support from our benefactors; we have supporters who are second to none in supporting the club, both financially and in every way possible; and we have no short-term debt.
Where are we now
For all of the reasons explained above, we are able to continue to plan ahead for what we are confident will be a strong future. During the first half of 2020/21, we have already demonstrated our on-going commitment to our 5 year growth plan. We have appointed a new Chief Executive Officer, Andrew McKinlay; we have appointed a new Sporting Director, Joe Savage; we have strengthened our First Team squad and have started the Season very well indeed and are currently sitting top of the Championship Table. We have also been recruiting for our First Team Women’s squad, under the guidance of our new Head Coach, Andy Kirk. While the Women’s Team have had a difficult start to their season, they are transitioning well to their new home at Oriam and to playing in the top tier. With a great win against our city rivals a few weeks ago, we are confident that we will grow stronger as the season progresses.
During the second half of the year, we will continue to invest as needed. We will further strengthen our first team squad during the January transfer window, in line with Robbie’s plan and we will focus on developing our key young players, both in the men’s and the women’s squads, to ensure we have a steady supply of the best young talent in Scotland moving forward. We are in the process of implementing a new High Performance Player Programme which will see a stronger focus on the individual development of our brightest young stars. We are also looking at introducing a similar programme for our best young talent in the Academy. We will do everything possible to be ready to take our place back at the forefront of Scottish football when this dreadful pandemic is over.
Finally, the Board would like to express its thanks for the continued support of everyone associated with the Club, be it fans, employees, players, shareholders, or sponsors and partners. We hope you agree that the important role played by all of these groups of people came out loud and clear in the “Inside Tynecastle” BBC documentary series that was shown recently. On top of everything else we were dealing with this year, we still managed to complete the series, which was, of course, commissioned well before we knew what a year it was going to turn out to be. The production team at Two Rivers did an excellent job, under incredibly difficult conditions, to complete this project but without the cooperation of everyone who contributed, it could not have been done. Thank you all!
In reviewing the year just gone it’s important not to forget the amazing work carried out by our Communities Department and indeed Big Hearts in standing together with our community in the face of the pandemic. We thank everyone involved and you can read all that was accomplished in our CSR Report.
There is one final, huge and special “thank you” to be expressed. Dr Eric Hogg has decided to stand-down from the Board after 6 years of service. Eric agreed to join the Board when Bidco (1874) bought the Club out of Administration in 2014. He played a huge part in helping to stabilise the Club, initially in the role of Executive Operations Director. He then agreed to stay on as a Non-Executive Director for a further 3 years. His contribution over that period has been immense and we wish him a very long and happy retirement.
In conclusion, we have come through a very difficult period by standing together and by continuing to do so, we will emerge stronger than ever.
On behalf of everyone at Hearts we hope you all have as safe and happy a Festive Season as is possible given the constraints under which we are all living. Let’s all look forward to putting 2020 behind us and to a successful 2021.