Shadow Sports Minister Clive Efford has said football fans need to be involved in the organisation of their clubs.
The recently announced plans to give football fans some control of their club should be welcomed by football fans and non-football fans alike. Whilst many people who are not fans of the beautiful game may ponder the relevance of Labour’s latest pledge it must be seen for what it is, the beginnings of consumer cooperatives within English and Welsh football.
The proposal would guarantee football supporters at least two seats on their club’s board and a minority stake in their club. This will give fans some control over sponsorship and naming of grounds, remember the Sport Direct Arena or the attempt to change Hull City’s name to Hull Tigers?
If one needs to check the advantages of fans being involved in the boardroom of their clubs looking at Germany would be a great start. They have the highest match attendance rates in Europe, some of the lowest ticket prices (average ticket costing roughly £10) and the Bundesliga has an annual €1.7bn turnover. Fans make up 51% of their clubs board in Germany and a majority is not allowed to be held by one individual and German football has no issues with debt, unlike English football were several clubs owe £100’s of millions.
Football has become an expensive sport to follow (especially Premier league football) and has seen ever increasing ticket costs. Since 2011 match day tickets have risen on average by 15% and season tickets have risen by 8%, according to the BBC’s cost of Football findings. However, over 60 professional clubs have faced server financial issues since the rise from the 90s. The placement of fans on the board could bring numerous benefits to the club and their local community, one world expect a more inward looking approach to finding talent.
The new policy could help drive down prices as fans will be able to pressure clubs to find more local talent and push for cheaper tickets attracting bigger audiences whilst cutting signing fees (assuming more local players are signed) etc.
The importance of this new policy is not solely linked to football, if it works well it could be a great example to big businesses that having an element of decision making not focused on bottom lines (whilst important) may be good for business as it appears to be in German football. Furthermore, as a great market research tool it’s hard to think of a better way to find out what your customers want from you than having some on the board making decisions with you.
Peter Ashurst is a researcher with the Labour Finance and Industry Group