Reclaim The Game: Case Studies

Grimsby Town, Bradford City, Real Oviedo and stories from Spain, drawing on recent examples of positive supporter involvement with clubs, strategies and suggestions

Grimsby Town: Mariners Trust – Evolution not Revolution

A Supporters Trust did exist 14 years ago, but in Mariners Trust’s words, it “died a death”. They simply did not get the members required to ensure sustainability. The Trust greatly suffered from supporter apathy which effectively left it dormant. When re-established, they were gifted 5000 shares in Grimsby Town Football Club. This led to an enormous challenge, as the Trust did not have the required capital to support the shareholding. In short, their only solution was to give some of the shares back to the main benefactor via a negotiated share transfer, leading to criticism from members and the local media.

Over the twelve month period that followed, the Trust focused their efforts on the club’s financial situation. It was able to report on this and supply simplified information back to fans. Fans started to feel informed, aiding a raised profile among the Grimsby Town fan base and heightened the Trust’s credibility and led to an increase in new members.

The Trust subsequently took over the management of the bars at the club, attracting supporters by making them more social. They have also been involved in ticket pricing discussions with the club.

Mariners Trust has been involved with the local community, sponsoring a local intermediate league – an initiative designed to get more children involved in their local team – as well as arranging a fan penalty shootout competition raffle. As a result of these Trust led initiatives, membership increased by over 550% in a period of 20 months.

Mariners Trust has now taken a seat on the Grimsby Town Board as a direct result of their strong partnership focus with the club. How did they do this? It was done through a committed committee, fully utilising the media (BBC Humberside) through a weekly column in the local newspaper. The Trust built a two-way relationship with club staff and ensured that any promises were duly delivered. As a result, the Trust has given supporters a voice and a say within their club. They work with the club, not against it. In short, Grimsby Town Football Club, Mariners Trust and the community all work together.

As a caveat, membership levels need to be maintained. The club have the right to remove the Mariners Trust representative from the Grimsby Town Board should there be a dramatic decrease in membership numbers.

“The community needs the club, and the club needs the community”.

Bradford City Supporters Board

The Bradford City model slightly differs to that of Grimsby Town. Bradford City’s supporters Trust did not necessarily use the Supporters Direct (SD) model, as they already had a number of established supporter groups. Instead, they set up a representative board of Trust members for these groups, thus all groups were represented. Bradford City’s Director of Operations is an ex-officio member.

So what have they achieved to date? They recently published club financial information for the first time, included on their website and provided a new memorial banner for the club’s FA Cup tie against Arsenal. They also advised on season ticket/flexi card provisions and price points (twice) and advised on ticketing issues ahead of the Capital One Cup play-off final, including ticket allocations for the club’s trip to Wembley.

Real Oviedo

The Oviedo presentation opened with a short video of Trust members being interviewed about what the club means to them. At the time of filming, the club’s chairman had been under scrutiny and is currently facing prosecution. Allegations included fraud and embezzlement. Supporters managed to remove him as chairman; however this led to issues regarding the appointment of his successor.

Campaigns were started on social media, leading to heightened international interest. Individuals as far as Great Britain were able to buy shares. Within 15 days, they had raised over €2 million. To date, individuals in 86 countries across the world hold shares in Oviedo, equating to 42% of the club. The Trust is continuing to look at ways to maintain their voice and their influence in the club.

Sustainability or Bust

Unfortunately, Swansea City Chairman Huw Jenkins (who was expected to sit on the Sustainability or Bust panel) was unable to attend the event. Instead, a pre-recorded interview was shown on the venue hall’s big screen. Jenkins’ key message was clear: Swansea City try to run and operate entirely within its means. This was the case 10 years ago and is the case now that the club is in the Premier League. Swansea relies heavily on this as their ethos and philosophy.

“Continuity on the playing side is equal to success and sustainability off it”.

The club has an impressive long term plan linked to sustainability. This is fundamental for the success of Swansea City Football Club. Ultimately, one of the biggest obstacles in football is continuity. In terms of part ownership and the Swansea City Supporters’ Trust, establishing a relationship was vital from day one. To this very day, that relationship remains strong and has grown immensely; uniting the club and supporters as they work together to achieve their goals, with the main focus being the benefits this brings to Swansea City Football Club.

Paul Rawnsley: York City Supporters Trust

Paul opened by discussing the Premier League, reporting its annual revenue growth of 14% and wages growth of 17%. On average, each Premier League team will gain an extra £25 million of revenue from the recently struck TV deal. This is on top of the current financial rewards clubs currently receive.

In the Championship, the average club spend was 23%. Deloitte have been working with UEFA for 20 years on financial governance. This finally culminated in the introduction of Financial Fair Play legislation, initially launched in 2010. The FFP legislation begins to take effect this summer. Should clubs breach these new regulations, they are subject to sanctions or financial penalties.

As far as York City is concerned, it was again a familiar story. The York City Supporters’ Trust stood aside when the club’s new owner entered the fold, who came in promising a lot. Instead, he ultimately made the situation a whole lot worse. The York City Supporters’ Trust was set up for the local community, families and for the city of York. One of the Trust’s major aims was focused on football governance.

John Beech: Researcher in Football Finance

John opened by stating that he was a member of the Portsmouth Supporters Trust (Pompey Trust), but had not been involved in Trust’s recent work that had seen them secure Portsmouth Football Club’s long term future. John’s research has centered on the financial issues that litter the game of football. He initially commenced his research by compiling a list of insolvency issues within football, thinking this would be a relatively minor issue. He stated that over 200 cases have been highlighted since he began. He continued to highlight that his main concern was to do with sustainability and in particular the sustainability of football clubs, the leagues they operate in and more generally the game of football as a whole. He highlighted that sport operates in a business environment. Football is very unique by way of product, but at its very heart there is a fan driven business that beats strong.

“Fans are psychological owners of their clubs; this makes it a different kind of business, which is why sustainability is so important”

So then the begging question on everybody’s mind: sustainability – is there a best practice model? The US was used as an example. Perhaps the most striking thing of all about the US model is the ethos of sport and the evenness of competition. By way of comparison, the German model still has an issue with big clubs being overly dominant. There is a concentration of power, possibly down to the distribution of TV revenue, which is intrinsically linked to Champions League football. So how do we make the transition to a more sustainable business model, particularly with the big successful clubs? If we had a blank sheet of paper, how would we start again with ownership and governance?

The SD Board duly recognized that they are seen as potentially becoming the bank of last resort. In the words of CEO David Lampitt, “We simply have to change that and become more proactive”.

So will the various forms of Financial Fair Play work? UEFA have potentially more problems this year than in the previous three years, with clubs failing to meet regulation requirements. Again, the Board acknowledged the increase in major insolvency issues in Spain. Despite this however, the general financial picture looks to be improving. One of FFP’s principle aims is to encourage clubs to invest in infrastructure, offering tax breaks and various incentives. This increases the chance of sustainability and incentivises positive financial management.

Asset of Community Value: Workshop 2

The Asset of Community Value (ACV) is already something Blues Trust has explored. We submitted our ACV application to Birmingham City Council on 22 June and are waiting to see if our application has been successful.

An Asset of Community Value is a community initiative that was legislated as part of the Localism Act 2011, which came into force in September 2012. The key behind the Localism Act is largely focused on decentralization; essentially giving away power to individuals, professionals and communities. Community right to bid was established in order to address the problem that saw other public services including libraries, pubs, and local shops closing. It community shares as a means to achieve this, as many individuals would simply not have the required funding or financial capital to otherwise acquire such services.

Should the Trust’s bid be accepted by the council, then a moratorium on a sale would take effect and we would be given a six week consultation period. If a decision to purchase the asset is agreed upon, then a further four-and-a-half month period will be granted in order to raise the required capital. The local authority would retain the list of community value. Should a decision not to proceed with a purchase occur, then the sale of the asset in question can proceed without blockage.

Improving Governance through Community Supporter Ownership: SD Europe

Supporters Direct was launched in Europe in 2009. In total, there have been nine partners involved with the movement since inception. However, the emphasis is not simply about one movement, but more so about collaboration and working together to maximise the social value of sports. In 2011, the focal point was on good football governance. Again, the priority was on the importance of supporter involvement and active citizenship; sharing best practice policies and researching best fit models that can attempt to bring all countries together.

The project commenced with a survey, distributed to over 12,000 supporters across Europe. The idea was to get a better understanding of their needs and took up 50% of the total project hours.

Examples of how the project has been implemented and the challenges individual nations have faced was given by representatives from Italy, Sweden and Cork City Football Club in Ireland. Sweden used the example of the 2009 fight with the football authorities as they attempted to remove the 50+1 regulation. Supporters united to fight the cause and Trusts also lobbied to overturn this. They continued by highlighting the even competition in the Swedish league, pointing out that, in the last nine years, there have been seven different league winners. Swedish ticket prices are also more in line with that of their German counterparts. In the end, Trusts won their battle and the regulation remains in place. In simplistic terms, the 50+1 model essentially means that you can have private investment, but community members will always own a majority 51%.

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