FAN-LED REVIEW: BST Q&A ON CLUB OWNERSHIP AND SUPPORTERS RIGHTS
Why is this an important issue?
There is no one, single reason. One factor is that the behavior of a small number of club owners has caused concern and continues to do so.
Probably more important is that football club are increasingly being seen as community assets that deserve protection in ways that might not be applicable to most commercial businesses. Fans of football clubs care a great about issues like history, identity and sustainability when they are thinking about the team they support.
What does this mean in terms of the fan-led review?
How clubs behave is largely going to be picked up by the work that is going on around creating a new and independent regulator. We are publishing separate Q&A briefing about this topic.
The main focus in the area of ownership and supporters rights is likely to be the ex-tent to which football fans have a meaningful role in the way that their club is man-aged; and to what extent their “rights” are enshrined in Codes of Practice and even legislation.
How is this handled elsewhere?
The example most often cited as a point of comparison is that of Germany, and the so-called “50+1” rule.
Many German sports clubs were in fact 100% owned by Members when originally created, and the 51% ownership model marks a retreat from that. Many German fans want to see the pendulum move back the other way - perhaps to something close to “75+1”.
Although often heralded as a model, German fans are increasingly concerned about what they see as unfair distribution of funding, clubs building up unsustainable levels of debts and selling off assets, and finally, elite clubs dominating to an excessive ex-tent.
Not so different from England then?
Some issues are strikingly familiar. There is much about the German ownership model that we should try to learn from, but it is worth remembering that at most clubs there the fans elect a Board to deliver upon a Manifesto, and regular contact between Board and supporters can be limited thereafter. In that sense, structured dialogue and the way it currently works in England may be seen to be a better approach.
Where German and English fans are coming together is in terms of what they want their club to represent. In Germany, there is increasing pressure to make football clubs:
• champions for issues such as sustainability and diversity
• model employers
• reputable local partners
What about other countries?
There is a variant on the “50+1” model in Sweden, which in part reflects the kind of bodies that were originally formed around the turn of the 19th/20th centuries. Many Swedish clubs are majority owned, Membership bodies and often run on a not-for profit basis (not dissimilar to the Supporters Trust model here in England).
It is probably also worth mentioning Spain. Here, all clubs are technically member-owned. Those members pay an annual fee, rather than owning shares.
The Spanish system is however a Presidential one, and there have been recent ex-amples of Presidents being elected upon, and then struggling to deliver, very costly Manifesto commitments that put the club at risk.
Which way will we go?
It’s too early to say. But none of the models described above seem wholly applicable to our situation in England. The depth of our league pyramid, and the huge variations in club values offer challenges that are probably unique. We do know that although we talk about valuing football supporters, this is not codified in practice - which means that what should often be rights are at the moment just aspirations.
What changes might be on the table?
Again, it is currently too early to say. One thing we can be confident about is that the extent to which there is real change will depend upon whether there is legislation to bring some of it in. Some issues that are currently under discussion include:
• identifying some crucial, “reserved matters”, where changes to current arrange-ments cannot be made without the consent of fans. That might include moving the club to another town, selling the stadium, changing the club’s name, even resigning from one League in order to play in another
• creating a “golden share”. This would be (as now) something that clubs need to hold in order to compete in competitions, but could be withheld or removed if fans successfully petitioned the regulator about the way the club handled reserved matters (above)
• insisting clubs have non-executive Directors on their Board, and / or nominated supporter representatives drawn from the Board of the Supporters Trust
Who would act for the fans on these issues?
The FSA propose that this should be done through the Supporters Trust, who are run by directly elected Boards and are legally and constitutionally obliged to re-invest any profit they make for the benefit of their members. Of course, not all clubs have a Supporters Trust currently, and those that do would probably need some support through training to carry out a new role such as this
Are these changes easy to make?
They require careful thought, not least because football clubs also have to comply with the existing provisions of company law.
But the FSA believe that they could be provided for in fairly standard articles of asso-ciation that all clubs could be required to incorporate by law, and which would be monitored by the Regulator
What are the implications for Supporters Trusts?
They are very significant. The FSA already provide educational support and training, but there would clearly need to be more, tailored to a new role. And any member of a Supporters Trust Board who was being nominated to sit on the football club Board would have to meet whatever standards were set out in the Owners & Directors Test
What about clubs who currently have no Supporters Trust?
The fans of these clubs would have to carefully weigh the increasing benefits that flow from having a Trust, and it is very likely that more of them would be created over time.
Where there is no Supporters Trust, the fans of the club are still entitled to the strongest possible protection (in terms of their rights). The role of delivering this would fall largely to the regulator.
How soon can these changes be implemented?
Not immediately. Much of the change under consideration would require legislation, which takes time to bring in. To the extent that some of what is asked for is “best practice”, there will be some potential for clubs, Leagues, and supporters to work collaboratively to make some changes voluntarily