As Hibs were preparing to face Ross County in a cinch Premiership fixture on Tuesday night, news broke that Bournemouth owner Bill Foley was keen to buy a minority stake in the club, with initial talks having taken place between the American businessman and Easter Road chiefs. 

This development came hot on the heels of the revelation that the Scottish FA had relaxed its strict guidelines on ownership, replacing its blanket ban on anyone owning at least 25% of another club in Europe from buying shares in Scottish clubs, with a less stringent process.

Teams in Scotland, it emerged, had already been targeted for link-ups with clubs in England with Burnley owners ALK Capital eyeing up an arrangement with Dundee. Could the multi-club model finally be penetrating the Scottish game?

The City Football Group, owners of Manchester City, is perhaps the largest and best-known conglomerate when it comes to multi-club structures but other organisations, such as the Fenway Sports Group - which owns Liverpool, the Boston Red Sox baseball team, and Pittsburgh Penguins ice hockey team - and Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, owners of Arsenal, MLS side Colorado Rapids, Major League Basketball team Denver Nuggets and Super Bowl LVI champions Los Angeles Rams, are casting their net wider than just football clubs - not unlike Foley's approach, but on a grander scale. 

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What does Foley's model look like?

The 78-year-old Texan is the managing partner and figurehead of Black Knight Football and Entertainment (BKFE), a holding company registered in the United States as a limited partnership (LP) and comprising multiple investors including actor Michael B Jordan. As of January 2023 Foley owned 30% of BKFE, who bought Bournemouth in December last year before shortly acquiring a reported 33% stake in Ligue 1 side FC Lorient. He is keen to gradually progress his involvement with the Breton side to 100% ownership on what he has referred to as a 'phased basis'. 

Foley serves as executive of Turquoise Bidco Ltd., the company that owns Bournemouth with BKFE acting as parent company. A similar French-registered company will do likewise with Lorient, and it would follow that the same will happen with the A-League expansion team in Auckland, for which Foley is the preferred bidder, and for any other clubs that join his Black Knight Football Club model. BKFE will continue to serve as parent company to the country-specific companies set up to run other teams. As well as New Zealand, BKFE has also explored the possibility of adding teams in Belgium and South America to its roster. 

Speaking on the Men in Blazers podcast in September, Foley stressed that his model was not designed to emulate the City Football Group approach. "We’re not going to be Manchester City - they’ve got 12 or 13 teams around the world," he said. "I believe if we can end up with four or five economic interests in various clubs we will have the system in place for players to advance and move onto the next club, and the next club. We'll have similar analytical staff in place and technical directors who will look for the right type of players who can ultimately play for Bournemouth."

Why Hibs?

In his own words, Foley is 'fascinated' by the Scottish Premiership. 'I believe there are opportunities to get one of the fourth, fifth, or sixth [ranked] Scottish clubs to third and playing in Europe. I believe we can pull that off with not a gigantic investment. We’d be a minority investor, a supporter of the club. I know we can help a Scottish team," he explained on the same podcast appearance. 

In a wide-ranging interview with The Athletic earlier this year, Foley spoke about the changes he wanted to make at Bournemouth. Hibs fans might recognise a lot of his key development areas: improved hospitality offerings and a focus on high-end hospitality; improving sponsorship deals; opening up matches to new supporters and expanding the fanbase; improvements to the training centre; large LED screens; revamping pre-match entertainment. 

"We’ve got to improve our team, improve our facilities, our infrastructure. We have to be a place where players want to go, where agents will say this is a place you want to go. Not a stepping stone but a destination," he said about Bournemouth. 

When he spoke about taking over at Lorient, Foley said: "It’s a place where we can put players and buy players. The multi-club model is the second part of the story. If I’m going to acquire players, why don’t I acquire them from myself? It’s a lot less expensive. The only downside is if you have two or three really good teams, only one can play in Europe."

Lorient do not have a storied past in European football; their sole involvement was a first-round away-goals exit at the hands of Turkish side Denizlispor in the 2002/03 edition of the UEFA Cup. But Foley wants that to change. He wants Lorient, who finished tenth out of 20 in last year's Ligue 1, to have a chance of European football. He doesn't want to, pardon the pun, cherry-pick their best players for Bournemouth. But if players do want to move on, and harbour hopes of plying their trade in England, he wants them to consider moving to the south coast rather than the likes of Arsenal or Liverpool. 

Certainly in the short term, the chances of both Bournemouth and Lorient reaching Europe would appear to be slim. At the time of writing Andoni Iraola's side lie 17th, just one point off the relegation places, while the Bretons are in 15th place, one point off the relegation play-off spot. Getting Hibs into Europe would appear to be a simpler task, plus one that wouldn't require a 'gigantic investment'. Scotland's work permit rules being a lot less strict than England's probably helps too. From Foley's point of view, Bournemouth want oven-ready players to bolster their side - so why not sign them and loan them to Hibs or Lorient to get them up to speed, for example?

What is the current state of play at Hibs?

Ron Gordon took control of the club in July 2019, taking over from Sir Tom Farmer.  When he passed away in February of this year, just weeks after sharing his cancer diagnosis, his wife Kit was appointed as a 'person with significant control' on March 7, and both her and son Ian have vowed to continue his leadership. Speaking at the Ron Gordon 24-hour Football Challenge in June, an annual charity event created in memory of the late Hibs executive chairman, Kit and Ian spoke about their plans.

"Ron had plans, and we plan to keep moving forward," they said. "This all started out as Ron's dream and he made it happen. He built it up to what it is today and we're very proud of everything he's done and by no means are we stepping away. Ron always had a passion for football but Hibs had a very special place in his heart and we as a family are so committed to continuing his legacy.”

Under the Gordons' leadership Hibs have replaced the pitch at Easter Road, as well as surfaces at their Ormiston training complex. Big screens and LED advertising has been introduced at the stadium along with the revamped hospitality offering, new UEFA-compliant floodlights and modernised turnstiles have been installed while the home dressing room has received a makeover. There is more to come too; such as the redevelopment of the interior of the Famous Five Stand. That commitment to continuing Ron's legacy is clear to see.  

What happens now?

It seems pointless to speculate too much about all this, given talks between Hibs and Foley are still at an early stage, but in terms of the day-to-day running the Gordons retain a majority shareholding in the club, with Hibernian Supporters Ltd. holding 15.4% and individual supporters holding the remaining amount.

Key to this process, which is very much in its infancy, is Foley's desire to acquire a minority stake in the club, which would be highly unlikely to impinge on the Gordons' leadership. His assertion that helping Hibs make the step up to be Scotland's third force and regular European football wouldn't require a huge investment backs this up. 

The only potential fly in the ointment might be Foley's admission that he doesn't like being a minority shareholder. He likes to be the main man, the grand fromage, in total control. 

But perhaps his designs on Hibs come from a different place. There are clearly shared interests between Foley and the Gordons - both in a personal and a business sense - and perhaps his closing words in that Athletic interview offer a modicum of comfort or hope for any Hibs fans concerned by what his potential involvement might mean.

"We need to be embedded in the community and vice-versa but we don't want to scrap established traditions. We want to make improvements and be a bit different, but I'm very cognisant of the history of Bournemouth."

It is early days but on and off the park Hibs must be an attractive prospect for potential investors keen to add to their portfolio of clubs. Scope for growth, located in a major capital city, very good infrastructure, a decent fanbase. The club is, broadly speaking, in a good place - which is why it's very hard to imagine the Gordons entertaining anything that would risk harming the club's future. But the next few months could certainly be very interesting.