Despite that, the club’s marketing chief has been busy since arriving at Easter Road and has a string of successes under his belt so far – and he’s only just getting started.
A string of partnerships have been secured with leading firms in the fields of technology, spirits, cars sales, and energy while initiatives aimed at attracting more fans to the game on a Saturday and improving the matchday experience are front and center of the club’s marketing push , alongside the #ThisIsOurCity hashtag on social media.
Hibs might have punched below their weight on and off the field in recent campaigns but there is cause for celebration commercially speaking, even with the background of a pandemic.
“When I came in and looked at the numbers we were up against, and where we are now, we’ve pretty much quadrupled,” McEwan tells the Evening News. “The more money we make commercially, effectively gives the manager more money to spend on players.
“To make such a jump over the last 24 months, with the challenges that we’ve faced, has been tough, but we’re not finished yet. We’ve got strategies in place and plans to try and kick on again.”
‘Football for a Fiver’
“I’ve spoken to people who aren’t Hibs or St Johnstone fans, but the opportunity to take their child to a game for a fiver means they’re buying tickets,” McEwan continues.
“If that kid comes to the game and has a great time, buys a scarf or a strip, or follows us on social media or comes to another game, great.
“It’s adding value to what we’re trying to do here at the club, but first and foremost, it’s about giving back to the community.
“The developments in this community – in Leith, in Granton – mean so many new people have come into the area who, throughout the pandemic, have not been able to get out and about and experience anything in their community.
“This is an opportunity: we want to engage with a wider audience and bring them into the Hibernian community.”
‘Brands want to grow with Hibs’
Off-field progress has an effect on the product on the park. Supporters may be surprised at the number of recent tie-ups but McEwan insists the partnerships are a result of the club aiming higher.
“We want to be a top-four club, and play regular European football. That’s our aspiration. We also want to be one of the top brands in Edinburgh, and businesses want to be part of our exciting journey. They want their brand to grow with the club.”
As an example, Hibs’ Joma-made strips this year have gone down very well with fans and the new shirt sponsor is an example of a brand growing side-by-side with the club.
“We had nine of the world’s top brands wanting to be our technical partner; Joma really wanted our business and positioned a fantastic package for the club – the best it’s ever had,” McEwan says.
“Utilita has been a fantastic partner for a long time; they started at a lower level and now they’re on the front of the shirt, and they do great work in the community as well.”
Easter Road naming rights
One sponsorship aspect that Hibs have avoided is renaming Easter Road. Has that been completely ruled out – and is there scope for sponsorship at the training centre?
“We’re not actively out there putting proposals in front of people but like any club, if the check was big enough and it was the right brand association… you look at BT Murrayfield. It fits, it maintains the name ‘Murrayfield’ alongside a strong, reputable brand. That sort of thing you could see working,” McEwan adds.
“The training center is different but the brand association would be key as well – you wouldn’t put a gambling sponsor on a training centre.
“Things like that are part of an inventory list but it’s not something we’re actively out there exploring.”
Alcohol, gambling, and education
Hibs have had a number of gambling or alcohol-related shirt sponsors in the last 30 years including Carlsberg and Marathonbet. Currently, St Andrews-based microbrewers and distillers Eden Mill occupy a place on the back of the shirts, so how does the club balance income with potential opposition to those types of partnerships?
“We don’t have a vaping or smoking partner,” McEwan explains. “And we went through a spell where we didn’t have a betting partner. We’ve now got a couple but part of the commercial agreement sees money go to the Hibs Community Foundation, which is out there in our community doing courses on gambling awareness, and the same with alcohol.
Connection with the fans
“I think this is probably as good a connection with the fans as there has been for a while, and we want to grow that.
“The club doesn’t belong to any of us; we’re just custodians. The club will be here long after we’re gone. Our job is to be better than those who came before us and whoever comes after us, they do it better than we did, and the club continues to move forwards.
“The fans are the one thing that will always be here so our role is to try and educate supporters in how the partners can help us grow and hopefully help the club get better quality players and results on Saturdays.
“But there are a number of things in the pipeline and the next six months will bring some dramatic change – such as the look of the Main Stand, and the matchday experience at some of the bigger games. It’s an exciting time.”