ownership

Fan Ownership: What’s the Problem?

Fan Ownership is one of footballs biggest talking points at the present time. With dwindling attendances, rising ticket prices and teams going bust left, right and centre it is surely time to take action!

In the season 2011/2012 the then Scottish Premier League experienced a collective loss of over £10 million. Only two of the 10 teams analysed within the PWC report calculated a profit. Since then British football fans witnessed the collapse of Hearts of Midlothian and Rangers Football Club, two of Scotlands biggest names. During the football seasons from 2009 – 2014 Scottish footballs’ top tier has experience a loss of almost £40 million. Scottish Football has generated substantial losses in contrast to the other European football leagues. There have been similar cases of financial loss in England with regards to Leeds United, Portsmouth, Hereford, Wrexham and most recently Bolton Wanderers.

There are clearly problems with the ownership models largely in use at this current stage. The predominant models are split into two different types. There are ownership types; examples of this include benevolent family ownership and individual ownership, and there are company types; examples of this include public limited companies and private limited companies. These models share a common advantage towards either a single individual or a group of select individuals. There are obvious problems with the current models in place, therefore alternatives must be encouraged.

There are significant benefits to fan ownership. Fanatics, individuals who express a life long devotion to their club, and most supporters in broad terms provide stability and continuity in relation to financial backing. In most cases it is unlikely for a supporter to switch alliance to another club. Supporters, for the most part, remain constant. The benefit of this continuity is that the supporters are, for the most part, key investors in the company and have a significant impact on revenue. Supporters, and devoted fans, will not turn their back on their clubs. Private investors are known to let clubs, fans and communities down by mismanaging business; this is most notable in the case of Manchester United Football Club with the takeover of the Glazer family, similar cases have occurred at Liverpool and Rangers Football Clubs. To resolve this, supporters must be encouraged to own their clubs.

“Results don’t matter; I mean you’re always going to support

your football club no matter what.”

(Cork City fan, 2015)

Supporters influence their club massively. Even with the absence of fan ownership supporters engage in and influence all aspects of their club, including the clubs culture and identity. For most supporters the clubs stadium is the epicentre of their cultural expression and regional pride. It is within the realms of the football ground that supporters will express their undying support for their team. Importantly, the financial influence of the supporters comes predominantly from gate money. It is clear from a number of reports that supporters’ involvement is crucial to the financial gain of any football club. Supporters’ are fundamental to the process which allows football clubs to maximise their potential returns. The loyalty of supporters is often exploited to generate finance for the club. Merchandise is tailored to fan interests and supporters are given no choice but to pay extortionate ticket prices. This is not in the best interest of those who devote all their efforts to the club they love: the fans. There surely has to be a resolution.

FINANCIAL MISMANAGEMENT

A contemporary example of supporter mistreatment is the case of Leeds United Football club. The Yorkshire side have experienced financial plight for the worst part of 15 years. Despite having a unified Supporters Trust (Leeds Fans United), chairman and majority share holder Massimo Cellino has halted the supporters’ bid for their club. After agreeing to sell the club to the Leeds United Fans trust in October 2015, the controversial Chairman changed his mind a month later and withdrew his interest. The Leeds supporters were subjected to further financial and managerial mistreatment in early December 2015, when Cellino imposed a £5 increase in ticket price. This inflated price included a food voucher to be used at half time, which would be used as an incentive to encourage supporters to use the clubs catering facilities regardless of whether the loyal supporter wanted the half time pie or not. This incentive provides support for fan ownership in football. Leeds United is one case out of a multitude of others. Supporters and their clubs are experiencing a complete lack of communication and consultation. Supporters are being completely disregarded and ignored with regards to decisions that affect them. Importantly, the more fans continue to be excluded from ownership the more they become disenfranchised from their football clubs. To discourage the club from fan ownership is to discourage the club from gaining any form of stability and transparency.

“It’s now all about the football. It’s not even the case of like; I don’t go around the place saying ‘oh I run a football club’, because you know that’s not part of it.

But just for me as a fan, who’s gone through all the shite with bad owners, for me knowing that my club will never be in that situation again because its fan owned is fantastic.”

(Cork City fan, 2015)

HAPPIER TIMES

There are certainly indications that fan ownership is met with a positive response from the majority of fans. In my opinion football will only be better when owned by its supporters. However there are certainly negatives amongst the positives. There is a huge question as to whether or not supporter associations can control, or at least affect, the power within the board room. Can the representative individual, or individuals, successfully engage in important decisions especially when these representatives are likely to be the ‘outsider’ on the board. Furthermore, supporter associations have even been accused of exploiting their own clubs by forming unfavourable alliances with board members who possess majority shares in order to strengthen their own authority. When instances like this have occurred it has naturally caused distrust amongst supporters, which has a negative effect on transparency and assurance.

However, there are too many positive examples of supporter ownership that greatly outweigh any such negatives. Hereford FC dropped out of the Football League through relegation in 2012 and since then the supporters were made to endure three seasons of financial mismanagement under two different owners in David Keyte, who refused to sell to the Hereford United Supporters Trust, and Tommy Agombar. Under Agombar’s rein Hereford was ejected from non league football due to large sums of debt and in December 2014 Hereford FC collapsed. Since 2015 under fan ownership, Hereford FC, have created a sustainable future attracting no fewer than 2,000 members, the club have acquired kit sponsorship and have even obtained possession of Edgar Street stadium, the ground the original club used since 1924. Fan ownership has brought sustainability, democracy, inclusion and continuity to the club. There are many examples of this positive change in the light of supporter ownership at other clubs, such as FC United of Manchester and Portsmouth FC, which is why I strongly believe supporters’ should be given the right to own their club.

FAN OWENRSHIP: THIS IS OUR TIME! 

Majority ownership has led to the collapse of many British football clubs. Supporters’ loyalty and devotion to their clubs have been exploited by owners, and the common aspiration for success has been employed as a rational explanation for groundless, unreasonable and unmanageable economic abuse.

There are successful cases of fan ownership at both the bottom and top end of professional football. Importantly, there are far too many cases of bad ownership.

Football, is about community. British football must regain this sentiment.  The supporters, the people who invest time and money into their club, should be the ones who own it and make decisions in regards to what is best for their club. A great man once said “Football without fans it nothing.”, and never have those words resonated more with football supporters than right now. Everyone who loves this game has a responsibility to take a good hard look at themselves and ask, ‘What am I doing to make a difference?’.

 

 

References

BBC Sport (2015a) ‘Massimo Cellino: Leeds chairman calls off plan to sell club to fans’, BBC Sport website  http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/34721028 accessed on 7 December 2015

BBC Sport (2015b) ‘Hereford FC: New club to play in Midland Football League’, BBC Sport website http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/32740977 accessed on 8 December 2015

BBC Sport (2015c) ‘Hereford FC supporters crucial to future of phoenix club’, BBC Sport website http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/33500060 accessed on 8 December 2015

BBC Sport (2015d) ‘Hereford FC shirt sponsor deal agreed for new season’, BBC Sport website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hereford-worcester-33067824 accessed on 8 December 2015

Beech, J. (2010) ‘Finance in the football industry’, in S., Hamil and S., Chadwick (Eds.), Managing football: An international perspective, Butterworth Heinemann, Oxford.

Begbies Traynor (2015) Begbies Traynor Red Flag Alert Football Distress Report: Scottish Football League – March 2015, University of Stirling website https://succeed.stir.ac.uk/webapps/blackboard/execute/content/file?cmd=view&content_id=_712405_1&course_id=_10330_1 accessed on 3 December 2015

Fitzpatrick, C (2013) ‘The struggle for grassroots involvement in football club governance: experiences of a supporter-activist’, Soccer and Society, Vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 201 – 214.

FourFourTwo (2015) ‘“Come on both teams!” Westfields vs Hereford’, FourFourTwo. November 2015, pp. 60 – 64.

Garcia, B & Welford, J. (2015) ‘Supporters and football governance, from customers to stakeholders: A literature review and agenda for research’, Sport Management Review, Vol. 18, no. 4, pp. 517 – 528.

Giulianotti, R. (2002) ‘Supporters, followers, fans, and flaneurs: a taxonomy of spectator identities in football’, Journal of Sport and Social Issues, Vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 25 – 46

Kennedy, P. (2012a) ‘Supporters Direct and supporters’ governance of football: a model for Europe?’, Soccer and Society, Vol. 13, no. 3, pp. 409 – 425.

Kennedy, P & Kennedy, D. (2012) ‘Football supporters and the commercialisation of football: comparative responses across Europe’, Soccer and Society, Vol. 13, no. 3, pp. 327 – 340.

Kennedy, D. (2012b) ‘Football stadium relocation and the commodification of football: the case of Everton supporters and their adoption of the language of commerce’, Soccer and Society, Vol. 13, no. 3, pp. 341 – 358.

Margalit, A. (2009) ‘“You’ll Never Walk Alone”: On property, community, and football fans’, Theoretical Inquiries in Law, Vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 217-240.

Morrow, S. (2015) ‘Football finances’ in J., Goddard and P., Sloane (Eds) Handbook of the Economics of Football. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham.

Morrow, S. (2015) ‘Power and logics in Scottish football: the financial collapse of Rangers FC’, Sport, Business and Management: An International Journal, Vol. 5, No. 4, pp. 325 – 343.

Morrow, S. (2012) ‘The financial collapse of Rangers: lessons for the business of football’, Perspectives, Vol. 33, pp. 15-18.

PWC (2013) Turbulent times ahead: Scottish Premier League Football, The University of Stirling website https://succeed.stir.ac.uk/webapps/blackboard/execute/content/file?cmd=view&content_id=_712403_1&course_id=_10330_1 accessed on 2 December 2015

Szymanski, S. (2015) Money and football: A soccernomics guide, Nation Books, New York

 The Guardian (2015) ‘Leeds fans up in arms at imposition of £5 pie tax in South Stand, The Guradian website http://www.theguardian.com/football/2015/dec/02/leeds-united-pie-tax-massimo-cellino accessed on 7 December 2015

The Independent (2015) ‘Massimo Cellino will not sell Leeds United until next year’, The Independent website http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/live-match-centre/championship/massimo-cellino-will-not-sell-leeds-united-until-next-year-a6743241.html accessed on 7 December 2015

The Scottish Government (2015) Consultation on Supporter Involvement in Scottish Football Clubs, The Scottish Government website http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0048/00486130.pdf accessed on 2 December 2015

The Telegraph (2015) ‘Leeds United’s pie tax is an abuse of supporters’ loyalty’, The Telegraph website http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/leeds-united/12032063/Leeds-Uniteds-pie-tax-is-an-abuse-of-supporters-loyalty.html accessed on 7 December 2015

 UEFA (2015) The European Club Footballing Landscape: Club licensing benchmarking report financial year 2014, The UEFA website http://www.uefa.org/MultimediaFiles/Download/Tech/uefaorg/General/02/29/65/84/2296584_DOWNLOAD.pdf accessed on 2 December 2015

Working Group Report (2015) Supporter Involvement in Football Clubs, The Scottish Government website http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0046/00469245.pdf accessed on 2 December 2015

Working Group Report (2014) Key Messaging Document – ownership and governance in Scottish Football, The Scottish Government website http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0045/00453211.pdf accessed on 2 December 2015

Copa90 (2015) Cork City FC – The Rise of the Rebel Army, YouTube website https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9t-Iq-2uiTU accessed on 19 January 2016

 

 

 

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WHO ATE AWW’ THE PIES?!

This afternoon Leeds United supporters will conduct a protest against a ‘PIE TAX’ when they face Hull City at Elland Road in the Yorkshire Derby (3pm KO).

 

Leeds owner, Massimo Cellino, has increased the ticket price of the South Stand by £5. This £5 increase will include a food voucher, intended as an incentive to encourage supporters to use the clubs catering facilities.

 

The fans are simply outraged at the owners’ decision to enforce the new ticket price, without consultation.

 

This new price will be applied to today’s fixture against Championship rivals, Hull City. Supporters in the South Stand will now be obliged to pay an increased price of £32 for the luxury of watching their home side, in contrast to supporters in the North Stand who will pay the usual £27. However, they will have the comfort of a half time pie – this is assuming that the loyal supporter wants to eat a pie at half time.

 

To be honest this incentive provides more ammunition for the case of Fan Ownership in football. This ‘pie tax’ surely has to be the last straw for a football club who for the worst part of 15 years have suffered from financial mismanagement and poor ownership. To pay an extra fiver for the price of your ticket you would be expecting a better seat, better players, or a better manager. This is simply ludicrous governance. I would think if you were seeking to encourage supporter attendance, and overall buy in from the support, then you would sell tastier pies at a reduced cost. But that seems too far fetched.

 

Owner, Massimo Cellino, is by no means a popular figure at Elland Road. His controversies have lead to the Football League banning the chairman from running the club on not one but two separate occasions. The first ban occurred in December 2014, after Italian courts found the owner guilty of tax evasion. The chairman appealed against the decision but was unsuccessful. The second ban occurred in October 2015. Again, the owner submitted an appeal against the decision but it appears he has so far been unsuccessful. Finally, to cement his undying love for Leeds United, last month the chairman vowed to no longer attend fixtures and removed his interest in selling the club to the supporters group, Leeds Fans United.

 

It is clear that Cellino has no loyalty to the club, and shows complete contempt to the Leeds support. The Whites have been made to endure the hardest of times and it goes without saying that they simply deserve more.

 

There is no question that the club would have fell to rubble by now had it not been for the loyalty of the fans. Football clubs are like no other business on the planet. If you use a product and you don’t particularly like it, then you change it and try a new one. This does not happen in football. Football is part of our identity, it is our cultural grandstand. The Leeds fans have proved this today. Even with the ‘pie tax’ the loyal support SOLD OUT their South Stand, and every home fixture welcomes 20,000 loyal whites. These supporters MUST be rewarded for their undying and lasting loyalty to their football club.

 

Leeds United is far from the riches and royalties of the Premier League; the club currently sits 17th in the Championship. The supporters must fight their majority share holder, Cellino, and take over the governance of their once proud club. For too long they have suffered at the hands of turbulent mismanagement, discouraging the club from gaining any form of stability or transparency. Perhaps a greater victory would be to win the battle, and for now, lose the war.

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/35006222

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/leeds-united/11951721/Massimo-Cellinos-ever-changing-moods-are-holding-Leeds-United-hostage.html

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/leeds-united/12032063/Leeds-Uniteds-pie-tax-is-an-abuse-of-supporters-loyalty.html

 

http://metro.co.uk/2015/12/03/leeds-united-owner-introduces-mandatory-pie-tax-for-supporters-buying-a-match-ticket-5541279/

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/34721028

 

http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/sport/football/hull/despite-pie-tax-leeds-south-stand-sold-out-for-hull-derby-1-7606384

 

Fan Ownership in Scotland – the facts

Below is a link to a website where you can sign up to receive updates on the Scottish Greens ‘Fans First’ campaign.

I picked this quote from a Celtic supporter in order to express the importance of these amendments. The changes are not merely relevant to Rangers Football Club, Hearts of Midlothian or Livingstone Football Club, who have all experienced vast financial loss in recent times, but this is a right granted to every Scottish football fan whatever team they may support if they are in need of it.

A Celtic fan said:

“Currently Celtic is run brilliantly (it wasn’t always like that). But Dermot Desmond and the board will certainly not be around for ever and who knows what route the next incumbents might take. Reckless spending to chase success is a tried and tested route in Scotland (Livingston, Gretna, Hearts, Rangers)… it never goes well. If fans own or part-own clubs then the finances are kept realistic because fans understand that it is them who will be digging into their pocket to save the club in the end. No fan wants to go through the pain of the aforementioned financially ‘troubled’ clubs.”

http://www.fansfirst.org.uk/what-we-want/