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FOOTBALL WHITE PAPER: A GUIDE

Table of contents

 

1.    Introduction and Context

2.    White Paper: Summary of contents

3.    The Regulator

4.    Strengthening the rights of fans

5.    Strengthening Owners & Directors Test(s) (O&DT)

6.    A new licensing system for clubs

7.    A possible “Shadow Regulator”

8.    What will the Regulator NOT do?

9.    What is BST doing?

10.  What can YOU do?

1. Introduction and Context

 

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) published their White Paper on football on 23 February 2023. It followed the Tracey Crouch Review (published November 2021) and the Government’s response to it (April 2022).

 

What is a White Paper ?

 

A White Paper is a document which sets out a Government’s final policy on an issue, and usually follows a period of consultation  with interested parties of the type described above. Having reached this stage, the focus from now on will be putting this final policy into practice.

 

So what will happen next?

 

Initially - another short period of consultation! However, we understand this will only last around four weeks or so. The Government will target it on a small number of key stakeholders and its focus will be on how to go about implementing the policy proposals set out in the White Paper. These will include :

 

•   the Football Association (FA)

 

•   the three Leagues affected - English Premier League (EPL), English Football League (EFL) and the National League (NL)

 

•   the Football Supporters Association (FSA)

 

•   the Professional Footballers Association (PFA)

 

Will BST be taking part in this consultation?

 

Not directly. We had an opportunity to take part in the initial consultation, submitting written evidence AND giving oral evidence to Tracey Crouch and her Panel. We will however remain in close dialogue with the FSA.

 

And after consultation?

 

Some White Papers can be enacted without the need for legislation, but this is NOT one of them. When a Bill to give effect to the main proposals can be brought forward remains to be settled ; but we are hoping that it will be included in the King’s Speech in May, setting out the legislative programme for the coming year. That could mean that the Regulator is in place for the 2024/25 season, but a lot of work still needs to be done to achieve this. The remainder of this note is a brief summary of the main contents of the White Paper. If you want to read to read the entire document, it can be viewed here :

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/a-sustainable-future-reforming-club-football-governance/a-sustainable-future-reforming-club-football-governance

2. White Paper : Summary of contents

  

This White Paper is both lengthy - over ninety pages - and comprehensive. It proposes the following main changes :

 

•   the creation of an independent regulator, covering the top five tiers of English men’s football. Women’s football has a separate Review of its own, which is being led by Karen Carney

 

•   the introduction of specific rights of consultation for fans, meaning that clubs cannot change the club’s name, colours or badge without their approval. Fans and the Regulator will also have to be consulted before a club can sell its stadium or propose to move elsewhere

 

•   strengthening the existing Owners & Directors Tests, including for prospective new owners

 

•   the Regulator will create and administer a licensing system for clubs, setting conditions that clubs must meet if they wish to compete in the English domestic competitions

 

•   the Regulator will have “backstop” powers to create new arrangements for the distribution of TV revenue through the pyramid and into grassroots football

This last power has attracted a great deal of comment. The EPL and EFL have, in the last fifteen months, failed to make progress on a new deal, despite strong pressure from the Government and others to do so.

The Government preference is that any deal should come from the football authorities themselves. If one is not forthcoming - the Regulator will impose one.

3. The Regulator

 

DCMS made the following points :

 

•   the existing football authorities have demonstrated that they are not capable of satisfactorily policing the way that clubs behave

 

•   an independent body is therefore a necessity

 

The new Regulator will have three main areas of responsibility :

 

i.        protecting the sustainability of clubs

 

ii.       maintaining the stability of the pyramid

 

iii.      protecting the cultural heritage of clubs for the benefit of fans

These three things will be the primary duties of the Regulator, and it will only be able to use its powers to help it to discharge them. But to help it to do so, the Government has also stipulated that it will have three “secondary” duties :

iv.      maintaining the strength of domestic competition

 

v.       maintaining our international competitiveness

 

vi.      maintaining levels of investment in the game

 

4. Strengthening the rights of fans

 

There are some so-called “heritage” rights that fans care a lot about.  The White Paper stipulates that once enacted, clubs will not be able to change their name, club badge or recognised colours without the agreement of fans.

It also provides that any club which is contemplating selling its stadium, or relocating to a new site, will need to consult fans first, and get the agreement of the Regulator. They will not be able to proceed without the consent of both.

 

Additional protections for fans will come in the form of a new licensing system, which will prevent clubs taking part in “breakaway” competitions (like, for example, the European Super League). More detail on this is below.

 

5. Strengthening Owners & Directors Test(s) (O&DT)

  

These tests are, of course, not new. But what we have at present is a one-off test, and it is poorly policed. gives little insight into how clubs are managing financial resources and does not always help fans to understand who really owns their club.

 

The new proposals include :

•   a fitness and propriety test, applied to owners & directors

•   stronger checks on the sources of owner wealth

•   a stronger focus on robust financial planning

Part of this is about ensuring that people of a suitable character are in the vital stewardship role of clubs. But it is also about ensuring that this good character is backed by strong arrangements to keep clubs sustainable and resilient in the face of risk.

 

Where clubs’ circumstances change, owners and directors will, under the new system, expect to be re-tested. Where they bring in additional investors and/or propose to sell the club, the incoming people will also be subject to rigorous checks, specifically looking at :

 

•   what financial resources they have

 

•   their financial forecasts

 

•   their ability to offer personal guarantees about any injection of new funding

 

•   their ability to do good contingency planning

6. A new licensing system for clubs

 

Some commentators, and fans, have said that a Regulator will only make a real difference if it has “teeth”, and can compel clubs to do the right things, and behave in the right way.

 

Good management and stewardship of our clubs is not just about financial management, important though that is. It is also about what is often called corporate governance - which is a shorthand way of describing how organisations are managed, and for what purpose ; and how they behave.

 

The Tracey Crouch review found that the performance of clubs in this vital area was patchy at best, with some examples of unacceptably poor practice. Examples of this included :

 

•   absentee or uncommunicative owners / directors

 

•   poor decision making

 

•   lack of transparency about how decisions are made, and by whom

 

•   poor levels of communication with supporters

 

Competent organisations should be able to do much better than this, and to help them to do so the Government is recommending that the Regulator, after consultation with industry experts, will bring in a Football Club Corporate Governance Code.

 

The underlying principles are that :

 

•   the Code will create standards that clubs will have to adhere to

 

•   those standards will be governed by what the best in class are able to do, not the worst…..

 

•   …. but it will be proportionate. A fifth tier club should not be subject to the same requirements (and costs) as one playing in the EPL

 

Clubs will not be able to pay mere lip service to this requirement, because : 

 

•   complying with the new Code will be one of the criteria that clubs will have to satisfy if they wish to have a license

 

•   the other criteria will include the financial requirements and standards of fan consultation described above ……

 

•   and without a license, a club will not be able to play in our domestic competitions

 

Issuing of licenses, and monitoring whether clubs are complying with the conditions attached, will be a key part of the  job of the new Regulator.

 

The Regulator’s powers will be widely drawn. The Government has been explicit in saying that it expects its default to be that it helps clubs wherever possible, by advocating good practice and sharing helpful information.

 

It is also clear that clubs should be given a reasonable opportunity to improve and adjust to the new system. Any penalties for non-compliance should be incremental, in the main. But the possibility of more extreme or intrusive action will be in the Regulator’s armoury and will be used where appropriate.

7. A  possible “Shadow Regulator”

 

In the White Paper, DCMS recognise that introducing a new Regulator is not something that can happen immediately, given the need for legislation.

 

This does not mean, however, that useful preparatory work cannot be done in advance, and the creation of a shadow body could in theory  enable a team of people with relevant expertise to do some of the necessary spadework that will enable the statutory body to hit the ground running.

 

What a shadow body could or might do is still subject to discussion and will be a key feature of the short consultation that is taking place in March. DCMS have as yet not decided whether to introduce one, but if they do have proposed it can do some extremely useful work on :

 

•   preparing a “State of Football Study” (which the Regulator will be obliged to do annually), assessing the state of the market in general

 

•   preliminary work to help design the licensing system and the Football Club Corporate Governance Code

 

•   engaging with clubs, to help them prepare for their new requirements

•   assessing clubs, in particular with regard to their readiness for licensing

 

•   necessary operational work to help the new regulator get off to a good start

 

The FSA also have some ideas on the possible remit of the shadow body, which will be shared with DCMS.

 

8. What will the Regulator NOT do?

 

The Regulator will have some very specific statutory duties, which are set out elsewhere. It will not be :

 

•   doing the work of the various Leagues. It will be able to make recommendations  to them about how they apply their own rules (e.g. where a club is failing and points deductions are contemplated)

 

•   interfering in day to day commercial decisions that clubs take, e.g. on ticket pricing, catering and transfer policy

9. What is BST doing ?

 

We recognise that huge changes are coming which will put a great demand upon the skills we have - and that the same applies to our club.

 

We welcome this, because the package of changes set out in this White Paper represent the most radical and progressive reform that the game has seen in its entire history. But it will only yield its full potential if ALL they key players are ready to play their full part.

 

So far we have done the following :

 

•   on 23 February, we wrote to the club, seeking an early meeting. In that letter we pointed out that both of us would need to learn and adapt quickly to the new arrangements ; it might be helpful to do work together to do so

 

•   also on 23 February, we wrote to the five Fylde Coast MPs, asking for their help in promoting the White Paper in Parliament, and continuing to make the case for a Bill to be included in the programme for the next Parliamentary Session beginning in May

 

•   we have written two articles about the proposed reforms for local and regional press

 

•   we are setting aside time at our next Members meeting on 30 March to discuss all these issues with you, in a forum where the club will also be able to add their own perspective

•   and we continue to play an active role in the policy work of the FSA

 

 

 

 

10. What can YOU do?

With change on this scale, numbers matter. If you support the proposals we have outlined above, you can help by doing some or all of the things listed below :

 

•   join the FSA. They are doing tremendously effective work to influence what is going on, and every new Member adds to their mandate

 

•   similarly, you could persuade family and friends to join BST. We expect to have a range of responsibilities arising out of the White Paper, and we also want as strong a mandate as we can get to go with them

 

•   if you have specialist skills - particularly in accountancy, law, business planning, corporate governance and regulation - we would particularly love to hear from you. The BST Committee would welcome the benefit of your expertise

 

•   these changes will affect ALL our supporters, so if you have good ideas about how we can present them in an accessible and interesting way to younger fans in particular, please get in touch.

 

 

if you have specific queries or points you wish to make, you can send them to us at :

 

listening@blackpoolsupporterstrust.com

 

and we will reply to them as and when we can.  We will also share your overall reaction with the FSA.

 

BST Committee

 

March 2023

“For Blackpool fans, our football club, and our community”.

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for Blackpool Fans, our Club and our Community

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