Examples of Supporter Ownership
There are currently 38 supporter owned clubs in England: 17 are fully owned by supporters including Wrexham AFC and Wycombe Wanderers FC, five are majority owned by supporters, including AFC Wimbledon and Portsmouth CFC and 16 are partly owned including Swansea City FC in the Premier League.(1)
The benefits of fan ownership are clear. With a shareholding in the club, supporters can work towards protecting the interests of the club and the community leading to greater financial stability. Furthermore, proposals from other shareholders to benefit the club in the short-term (normally of a commercial nature) can be rejected in favour of ensuring the club’s key community assets such as the crest, kit colours and home ground ownership are safeguarded.
In the Premier League the model example is Swansea City, whose supporters trust, The Swansea City Supporters Society Limited (the “SC” Trust), is the third largest shareholder at the club with a shareholding of 19.9%. The SC Trust has a significant role in the club’s decision-making process through the presence of an elected supporter director. The shareholders’ agreement entered into by the shareholders of the club states that the supporter director cannot be removed irrespective of the dilution of the shares of the SC Trust.(2)
The Swansea model has clearly not hindered their progress with the club winning the League Cup in February 2013 and reaching the last 16 of the Europa League this season in addition to securing Premier League status for next season.
Villa Supporters Previous Shareholding
For Villa a shareholding for the AVST would be welcomed once again by supporters especially given prior to Lerner’s tenure, the Villa Shareholders Association and Villa Fans Combined did have a shareholding in the club. Those shares though had to be sold to Lerner, as part of his takeover.
More than ideology
The case for encouraging greater levels of collective supporter share ownership has strengthened in recent years with the rise of Supporters Direct at the forefront of the Supporters Trust movement. Furthermore, earlier this year The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Mutuals released a report urging the Government to take action to improve the way football club owners behave towards supporter groups in an attempt to protect their interests. The report criticised the neutral attitudes of the Football Association, Premier League and Football League taken towards issues of ownership.(3)
The prospect of fan ownership in England has acted as a first resort for supporters to bring about a brighter future for their club following times of adversity. In recent years there is growing support for supporter ownership with 56% of fans who participated in a survey on fan ownership conducted by YouGov for Co-Operatives UK believing their club would be in better hands if it was owned co-operatively.(4)
The European Example
For the situation to improve the Premier League may need look at different approaches to fan-ownership and our European counterparts demonstrate a perfect example of how the structure of supporter-owned clubs can operate. In Sweden and Turkey, all clubs must be fan-owned and a similar approach is adopted in Germany with the “50+1” rule requiring the association or club to have a controlling stake of at least 50% + 1 share. There are two exceptions to this with Wolfsburg being owned by Wolkswagen and Bayer Leverkusen owned by the chemical company, Bayer – both clubs originated as works sporting clubs.
In Spain, F.C. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Osasuna and Athletico Bilbao are all socio-owned with presidents elected by the club’s members. UEFA President Michel Platini believes ‘Members’ societies controlled by socios, who have their own ground, who invest in the youth system and who maintain their own identity, [are the ideal].
The culture of one league is different to another throughout Europe, but in England there is a desire for instant success initiated by new owners believing they can bring about instant change thus instilling belief in the supporters. When such promises cannot be kept, however, the books have to be balanced and expectations are soon dampened with the supporters once again suffering.
When Lerner arrived at Villa, he was full of enthusiasm and belief we could reach the Champions League, investing over £200m in the club. After a transitional season, three 6th places followed but that would be the closest we would get to qualifying for Europe’s top competition with relegation a much greater possibility in recent seasons.
For now Lerner will be trusted to find the right buyer for the club, but should the Villa sale saga continue to run deep into the summer expect the prospect of fan ownership to be explored further.
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