My initial plan to write my next piece on the impact of the Hearts debacle on Dundee was immediately transformed by the latest surreal news that broke on Monday night.
It’s transpired that a consortium of Texan businessmen, who have been in talks with two Dundee board members, Steve Martin and Bill Colvin, and CEO Scot Gardiner for the last year, are looking to buy Dens Park from current owner John Bennett as well as invest £700,000 in the club in return for a 51% share.
According to reports, Bill Colvin would be made chairman of the Club, with the three Texans, John Nelms, James Keyes and Tim Keyes, attaining places on the Board. Scot Gardiner would remain as CEO, but the fans would only have one representative on the six-man board (down from 3 as it stands) and would also see their share of the club reduce from 51% to either 25% or 30%.
Beyond that, very little information has leaked beyond the boardroom, leaving ordinary punters to take part in a torturous guessing game. As well as speculation around the exact parameters of the investment and the percentages held by respective parties if the deal were to go ahead, a number of other questions exist:
- Why are the consortium keen to invest in the Club? (this may seem self-deprecating, but it’s a genuine question posed by many fans)
- Would a re-owned Dens Park be owned by the Club or by the Texan consortium?
- If it was owned by the consortium, would they give the Club a long lease on the ground to allay any fears about the ground being used for other purposes?
- Would the £700,000 be earmarked for specific uses (the consortium have previously invested heavily in football youth academies in the Lone Star State) or would that be at the discretion of the board and manager?
- What are the ramifications for the manager’s budget if the investment is rejected/accepted?
- Would this be a one-time investment or would it be a longer-term commitment?
- What exact say would the fans continue to have at the club if we revert from the much-lauded fan ownership model to the commonplace single owner model?
- Why are the consortium looking to have a controlling interest in the Club?
There are also governance issues that have been raised. There have been reports that the deal on the table is conditional on being agreed to by Friday, which obviously presents real difficulties for a fan-owned club as it would be hugely difficult for the Supporters’ Society to gauge the reaction of all of its members by then.
While it’s understandable that no deal would be made public until the exact details are agreed on by all parties, there is also some confusion and anger that the fans were kept in the dark over this particular investment. However, there does seem to be a collective amnesia about Gardiner’s role, which he has always made clear is to promote the club and attract investment wherever it can be found. I’m no conspiracy theorist, and I do think that this is a genuine opportunity for Dundee, but there’s no doubt that communication between the fans and the business side of the club could have been handled better here.
There is definitely some resentment among the fans on online forums, some of whom feel that they are being pressurised or “bounced” into accepting this deal which has apparently been subject to year-long negotiations between Gardiner, Colvin, Martin and the consortium but apparently must be agreed in a very short timescale. If I were to crudely calculate the divide of opinion among the fans online on the investment itself rather than on the circumstances and personnel involved, there’s a third who are dead against it, a third who are all for it and a third who want answers to some of the questions above before they could decide.
Of course, Dundee fans have been here before, and “once bitten, twice shy” is never truer than it is with potential investors at Dens. Cook, Dixon, Marr, Di Stefano (gulp) and Melville are all names etched on the memories of Dundee fans and not for positive reasons; each has come in and promised the earth only to deliver various shades of financial hell. Any new investor has to recognise the scars that our club still bears from previous owners and investors and do their utmost to assuage our fears and to demonstrate beyond all reasonable doubt that their intentions (and their wallet) are true.
Personally, I’m conflicted over the deal. As a member of the Supporters’ Society, I should (hopefully) get a vote on the investment, and I genuinely do not know what way I would vote. On the plus side, Scottish football is crying out for investment, and if the consortium can show themselves to be credible and here for the long haul, then we’d be daft to turn it down, particularly with the consortium’s experience in building and financing youth academies. On the other hand, we’ve been burnt before by bad deals, and any deal which takes control of the club out of the hands of the supporters has to be severely scrutinised- our own past and the current woes of Hearts, Dunfermline and Rangers demand no less.
This is not a deal that should be accepted rashly or dismissed in a panic, but an opportunity for fans and the club to re-assess our position and to decide what’s best for our long-term stability and future. The fans deserve some answers to their questions, but the consortium and the club also deserve a fair hearing. As somebody who’s suffered through two administrations, I don’t want to suffer through a third that could kill my 120-year-old club. Cool heads must prevail, and the right decision has to be made by the right people for the right reasons. I can only hope that next season, we make our news on the pitch and not off it.