Time to deal with the real issues

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Here at Fan Ownership Towers we like to see ourselves as:

i) Completely impartial in terms of associations with clubs; and

ii) 100% behind any movement for fans and communities who see fanownership/community ownership as the way forward.

But what happens when we see these factors become merged?  Or more worryingly, what happens when potential opportunities for the second objective to be achieved on a massive scale i.e. across many clubs is forgotten about or becomes less focussed?

The Rangers crisis in Scotland has highlighted such an issue.  Now @fanownership aren’t going to reiterate the entire process to date but here is a brief summary.

For once, SPL clubs decided to engage with their supporters and the (obvious) result was that the vast majority of supporters voted against the motion to allow the Rangers “newco” entry into the SPL.  The SPL clubs acknowledged their supporters’ wishes and voted against the motion.  Rangers “newco” now have to apply for membership to the SFL.  Under “normal” circumstances a “yes” vote would see Rangers “newco” enter the SFL at Division 3.  However, the current financial model of Scottish football is based on a successful Rangers and a successful Celtic (by “success” we mean that both clubs are competing in the SPL).  The SPL know that it can survive a year or so without Rangers but any longer will have a significant impact on its sustainability and the other SPL clubs’ sustainability.  So the motions being put to the SFL clubs are should Rangers “newco” enter the SFL at Division 1 not Division 3.  Forgive us for over-simplifying the issues!

The fans and supporters of most clubs outside the SPL including Rangers are stating that the original charge against Rangers i.e. sporting integrity should require Rangers “newco” to enter at Division 3.  However, such an action will seriously compromise the current financial model.

Herein lies the problem.  We’ve taken our eye off the ball.

Supporter groups and some clubs are now making strong statements for and against.  Claims of blackmail are being made.  The SPL could breach its agreement with the SFL in terms of distribution of TV monies.  Broadcasters may or may not pull out.

The big issue is at best being sidelined and at worst being consciously avoided.

The owners of the clubs are failing in their roles as custodians.  Custodianship requires owners to ensure that the clubs they own today are fit for purpose for the owners of tomorrow.  That includes the effectiveness of the governance structure in which their club operates i.e. SFA, SFL and/or SPL.

There are many questions that should be asked:

i) Who is holding those responsible in the SPL for negotiating broadcaster contracts which fundamentally fly in the face of good business?

ii) Who is holding the SPL to account on its obligations to the SFL?

iii) Who at the highest level is acting on changing the financial model?

The answer could simply be that the SFA should be doing these but…………

So what are we saying?

Rangers “newco” should be allowed into the SFL at Division 3 – end of story i.e. no further sanctions.

Fans and supporters of ALL Scottish clubs should draw a line in the sand and focus on developing their own strategies for owning their football clubs not wasting energy on issuing pointless statements which miss the big issue.

Fans and supporters of Scottish clubs should unite in the fanownership movement.  Remember that many fans will willingly assist fans of other clubs.

Those in positions of power at the governing bodies should either step up to the plate and implement change or step down acknowledging that they are not up to the challenge.

Scottish football is unique because it has two clubs which are disproportionately larger than any others but this isn’t new!!!

If we focus on the right governance and financial models then Scottish football will survive, there will be no social unrest, there will be no constipated governing bodies and who knows, maybe the product on the pitch will be attractive enough for Craig Burley.

It is only through fans and supporters that such a change can be instigated so @fanownership asks you all to unite, focus on the big issues and ensure that what happened at Rangers cannot happen again because if we miss this opportunity it very much will happen again.



The Irony of the “newco” Vote

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@fanownership posted a brief Tweet earlier today – it read:

“The irony of the #newco debate? SPL clubs are engaging with supporters! #fanengagement #fansarethefuture

This small statement was retweeted, favourited and replied to more so than many other @fanownership Tweets meaning:

1. Previous Tweets have been boring; or

2. There’s something to be said on this area.

Obviously it couldn’t possible be option 1 so we have assumed that the topic is of interest.

For those readers not in the know regarding the “newco” issue, basically as a result of Rangers Football Club entering administration, being liquidated and re-formed via the purchase of the assets by Charles Green’s consortium the SPL clubs are taking a vote on the 4th July 2012 to accept or reject the new company’s (newco) application to join the SPL.

The result of the vote is eagerly anticipated however most onlookers would be of the opinion that newco will not be allowed to join the SPL and the debate is whether Rangers shall enter Division 1 or Division 3.

The purpose of this post is not to comment on the upcoming vote itself but to highlight to those interested, the complete irony of a situation that has now arisen.

In an industry where football club owners pay little, if any regard for their supporters, a number of SPL clubs have decided to seek the opinions of their supporters on the newco vote issue.

Dundee United’s Chairman met with fan representatives on Thursday evening and based on the polled data from a number of these bodies has decided that the Club will vote against the newco joining the SPL.

The Aberdeen Chairman has stated that “sporting integrity” and “fans views” will play a part in its final decision.

Members of Motherwell FC’s Supporters Trust (the ‘Well Society) will now be balloted with the results used to determine which way the club will vote on the day.

Kilmarnock FC is seeking the opinion of shareholders and season ticket holders before casting their vote.

Now we’re not naive here at @fanownership towers.  We are well aware that this sudden acknowledgement of the fan-base is not a mass change of heart in each owner.  If the expected happens and newco is not allowed into the SPL then the associated impact on these clubs will be, reduced revenues from gate receipts (matches against Rangers attract higher numbers) and as yet unquantified amounts in relation to commercial income including TV broadcasting rights.

Owners of SPL clubs are looking at these financial risks and struggling with their consciences – vote yes to newco, annoy the fans but retain the revenues or vote no, upholding sporting integrity but losing income.

If the owners seek the opinions of the fans and that opinion is a no vote which subsequently results in the club entering financial difficulties in the future then the owners can turn round and say to those fans – “It’s your fault guys”.

So what price fan-engagement?

It is priceless.

What a Week!

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Well what a week in the life of British football!

@fanownership shall take you on a journey the length and breadth of Great Britain today.  Shall I recap?

1. Glasgow Rangers Football Club liquidated for £5.5m;

2. St Mirren Football Club poised to come under fanownership;

3. English Premier League viewing rights sold for over £3bn;

4. Cardiff City FC’s rebranding exercise continues; and

5. English Premier League ranked highest in Europe with regard to social responsibility.

Let’s start with Rangers – the not surprising decision to vote against the CVA has resulted in the Club being liquidated and Charles Green and his Sevco consortium taking ownership of the assets for a paltry £5.5m. Ex-manager Walter Smith is linked with organising an approach for the club in the near future but Green has clearly done his homework and could make significant cash in the re-sale. Remember we’ve seen this happen at a high level before at Swansea. @fanownership is of the opinion that what has happened here is close to the lowest form of investment and urges the relevant authorities to sit back and look at what has taken place. Hopefully, after initially feeling shamed and embarrassed, they will act to ensure that the communities in which football clubs operate are considered above all other factors.

Now onto to what will hopefully prove one of the most positive initiatives in recent times.  A group of supporters of St Mirren, the SPL team from Paisley has, after much negotiation and deliberation agreed a deal in principle to purchase the selling consortium’s 52% stake in the club.  The campaign enables community ownership of the club which engages the entire St Mirren community and also recognises the importance of the existing shareholders of the club both large and small.

The group, known as 10000HOURS is very close to reaching its overall targets and a formal bid process shall take place tomorrow (Monday 18th June 2012).  Go to www.10000hours.org for more information and details on how you can help.  @fanownership are proud to admit that they have pledged their support to this tremendous effort (remember, you don’t have to be a St Mirren fan, just a fan of community ownership).

And in the same week as we see Rangers purchased for a mere £5.5m we also see the English Premier League selling their viewing packages for the next three years for a staggering £3bn!

Whilst BskyB has retained the lion’s share of the games on offer (116 matches), BT ousted ESPN and scooped two packages of 38 matches for the BT Vision service offering.  The total money earned from the auction of live and delayed rights for the UK and Ireland stood at £3.018billion – over a billion pounds more than last time.  Good articles on the subject by more qualified individuals at http://sport.uk.msn.com/football/football-rights-what-does-the-bt-deal-mean and from http://footballeconomy.com/content/bts-football-gamble

So on to another matter close to @fanownership’s heart – the drive for institutions to acknowledge and act in the interests of the communities in which they operate.  In the case of football – it’s the fans.  We travel to Wales now, specifically Cardiff City Football Club who it appears shall be being rebranded in terms of home shirt colour and crest/logo.  In return for this exercise the club will gain significant financing from its Malaysian investors.  The original club statement can be found here http://www.cardiffcityfc.co.uk/page/NewsDetail/0,,10335~2798585,00.htmlThe Cardiff City Supporters Trust are coordinating a response and are seeking the views of its members http://www.ccfctrust.org/?p=2314  It’s a big dilemma – do you take the investment and accept that certain compromises have to be made or do you put the club at risk financially?  @fanownership would accept the deal if the investors gave the Trust a significant shareholding – but live in a utopian bubble here at fanownership towers.

And finally back to England and the Premier League, which has been ranked as top of the European League of Community  & Governance rankings.  The research was conducted by Responsiball and used indicators covering issues such as Health and Safety, Ticketing, Fan Work, Coaching, Procurement, and Biodiversity.  A more detailed analysis of the work can be found here http://fcbusiness.co.uk/community/news/article/newsitem=1848/title=premier+league+clubs+top+social+responsibility+ranking+

Always, end on a positive!!!

So what will next week bring?

If you have a story about your community organisation no matter where you are in the world let @fanownership know via Twitter or directly at fanownership@gmail.com


So What’s it all About?

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So what’s all this fanownership / community ownership about?

Very simply put, it is about local communities owning and therefore controlling the destiny of their facilities.  By facilities we don’t just mean football clubs.  It could be a local parkland, a sports clubs or community building.

You may be of the opinion that such initiatives should be left to the local authorities, central government or those wealthy philanthropic individuals who enjoy dishing out their cash for the benefit of those less fortunate than themselves.  In the past that is what happened and we were happy for this simplistic approach to continue.

And then it started going wrong.

In the UK during the 1980’s and 1990’s huge amounts of recreational areas were sold on to developers for access to quick cash but such areas are finite and eventually everyone realised that something should be done to minimise such actions (see www.fieldsintrust.org).

Having achieved decades of success, the old Wimbledon FC was allowed by a FA Commission to relocate to a Buckinghamshire new town.  The Dons fans (the community) were outraged and determined not to let a proud 104-year history die.  Within just six weeks during the summer of 2002, AFC Wimbledon – a club the sport’s governing body had declared would be “not in the wider interests of football” – was born (see www.afcwimbledon.com).

In 2006 at Cambridge City the Board announced plans to have the Club absorbed into Cambridge United by selling City’s stadium, scrapping the first team and turning the youth team into a United feeder side.  A fan’s campaign forced the Directors to resign to be replaced by members of the Cambridge City Supporters Trust (see www.cambridgecityfc.com).

There are many more examples throughout the World, not just the UK and across many areas, not just football.

And there is a golden thread which binds all these stories together.

Community ownership only tends to be considered or pursued when there is a risk of losing the community facilities.

No-one worried about who owned parklands in the cities until there was an obvious reduction in available sites.  No-one worried about who owned Wimbledon FC when they were winning the FA Cup.  No-one worried at Cambridge City when they were winning the 1985/86 Southern League South championship on the last day of the season.

But when the respective communities  realised that their spaces or their clubs were being taken away from them, they rose up, they organised themselves, they sought guidance and they acted.

Imagine an environment where communities were able to take ownership of their assets as a matter of course and ownership outside of the community was not the norm.  No longer would communities lose out, whether they be kids looking for a playing ground, parents looking for somewhere to meet, families seeking space to develop their small businesses or football fans watching their life-long passion disappear in front of their eyes.

We are lucky in the UK to have various advisory bodies in relation to the concept of community ownership including www.supporters-direct.org, www.uk.coop and www.communityshares.org.uk.

But we also need support at government level, something which to be honest has been severely lacking in terms of substance.  Yes, local politicians always say how important the community ownership concept is and how they support initiatives but such statements don’t actually create impact.

Let’s take Glasgow Rangers Football Club – a club that all readers will be aware of.  Since February this year it has followed the inevitable route from administration, to glimmers of rescue bids, to liquidation and now to the final stage of being owned by an individual who doesn’t even live in Scotland.  They are back to square one.  The only difference is that the new owner probably won’t have to work too hard to get his cash back because he got it at a rock bottom rate.   He will eventually benefit financially from the inevitable supporter backlash.

It’s all wrong.

Most examples should not have been allowed to happen and change is necessary.

Until that day there will always be guidance and support available from those bodies I have already mentioned and many more I have not.