Last week we were at the annual Supporters Direct conference in Chester. As well as the AGM, and other workshops and sessions, Supporters Direct launched two briefing papers – Financing Supporter Community Ownership and Business Advantages of Supporter Community Ownership in Football. These briefing papers were the third and fourth papers that Supporters Direct launched this year, following in the footsteps of the papers launched earlier this year – Developing Public Policy to Encourage Supporter Ownership in Football and Developing Football Regulation to Encourage Supporter Ownership in Football. For those people that were unable to attend, we provide a quick guide to the four briefing papers launched this year.

The first two papers were launched at Westminster in May, at an event attended by over 30 MPs, across each of the three main political parties in the UK. The first was Developing Public Policy to Encourage Supporter Ownership in Football, and aimed at mainly at politicians, and looked at how the government has incorporated a requirement in the coalition’s Programme for Government to “encourage the reform of football governance rules to support the co-operative ownership of football clubs by supporters”, and how existing laws and new laws such as the Localism Bill can be used to help push the co-operative movement within football, suggesting that clubs, as well as club facilities should be considered as “Assets of Community Value” (ACV), and that the proposed community “right to buy” schemes should include clubs and club facilities. Under the Localism Bill, any asset that is considered an ACV by the local authority, that comes up for sale has to go through a period where local community groups (such as a Supporters Trust) have a right to bid on the asset.

The second paper was aimed at the football authorities, and looked at Developing Football Regulation to Encourage Supporter Ownership. This paper encouraged ‘bottom up’ and ‘top down’ reform, including placing supporters at the heart of the game’s future, in order to remedy the existing governance issues within the sport. A new regulatory framework is suggested in order to improve the game, such as club licensing (as used in the Bundesliga) which would include a strengthened Fit and Proper Persons Test, and introduce financial regulation into the national game for the first time, abolishing the Football Creditors rule. The framework puts fans at the heart of the game, both in terms of Supporters Trust run clubs, as well as as stakeholders of the game in general. Overall, the paper looks at reform through tackling the cause, rather than the symptoms, and uses case studies in order to back up what the paper considers to be problems, as well as its solutions.

Paper three (Financing Supporter Community Ownership) was compiled in order to provide guidance on the different forms of fund raising available to sporting trusts. This paper outlines why raising funds are essential to Supporters Trusts when they are looking to acquire ownership or part-ownership of their club; be it in terms of buying shareholdings, from large scale purchases, such as when the club is in administration (as Exeter City did), through to ongoing share purchase (as is currently happening with the Arsenal Supporters Trust), and using funds to develop club facilities once the club is bought and/or established or even to build a home ground. The paper expands on a number of methods, and the legalities behind those methods that Supporters Trusts can use for raising funds: Community Share Schemes, Loan Notes and Bonds, Transferable Shares, Fighting Funds, Share Issues, Share Purchase Schemes, Community Interest Companies and more traditional fundraising mechanisms. While the paper might initially seem more geared towards those Supporters Trusts who are in a position to acquire their club, or are even already running clubs, the paper does expand on ways that Supporters Trusts who are yet to reach that position can expand their own funds.

The fourth and final paper (Business Advantages of Supporter Community Ownership in Football) is one that is not just geared to Supporters Trust run-clubs, but also the business community and local authorities as well as the authorities within the game itself, and uses evidence to show that, contrary to certain people’s opinions, supporters can be appropriate and capable owners of their football clubs via the medium of Supporters Trusts. The paper used testimony from eight Supporters Trust run clubs – from Brentford and Exeter City in the football league down to non league clubs such as Runcorn Linnets and Lewes. The paper looks at how Supporters Trust run clubs can run differently in terms of finance and developing facilities, and how fans are prepared to spend – and donate – more money to a Supporters Trust run club, and how Supporters Trust run clubs can create ‘Added Value’ for the club. The paper also shows how attractive Supporters Trust run clubs can be to sponsors, because rather than funding a business, they are providing funding for something that has a stronger long-term link within the local community. The paper shows that there is greater satisfaction amongst their supporters, because they feel more involved, and therefore a part of the club, and this helps develop a resilience amongst supporters. When comparing the percentage of supporters for whom team performance doesn’t influence attendance, five out of six Supporter Trust run clubs, compared to just two out five privately owned clubs gave a positive result of more than 50% of their fans attending regardless of team performance. These positives come from the added openness, transparency and accountability that a Supporters Trust run club should provide – this is backed up by a poll that shows that fans at Supporters Trust run clubs are more satisfied than those fans of privately owned clubs.

All four papers were compiled by social research company Substance. More information about Substance and the briefing papers, as well as electronic versions of the briefing papers can be found here.

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