Co-op football clubs call for a level playing field

Co-operative ownership can be key to improving governance in football, agreed the 70 MPs taking part in a Parliamentary meeting organised by Supporters Direct on 5 February.

Co-operative ownership can be key to improving governance in football, agreed the 70 MPs taking part in a Parliamentary meeting organised by Supporters Direct on 5 February.

The discussion focused on the inquiry into football governance undertaken by the Select Committee for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in 2011.

MPs expressed growing concerns over the increasing commercialisation of the game, the lack of financial regulation and Premier League’s influence in the decision-making processes of the Football Association.

During the parliamentary meeting Supporters Direct proposed an alternative way to reform football by removing barriers to fan ownership of clubs. Supporters Direct also lobbied for a rule that guarantees a structured relationship between fans and clubs and for stadiums to be designated as community assets so they are not sold off without lengthy consultation.

Supporters Direct Europe had also previously met with Androulla Vassiliou, the Europeam Commissioner in charge of Education, Culture, Multilingualism, Youth and Sport.

‘Co-op football clubs are a better alternative’

Although the co-operative ownership model has proven to be very successful in other countries, this enterprise model is not as influential in UK’s football leagues.

Kevin Rye, Network Development Manager at Supporters Direct, said co-op football clubs are a better alternative because they get supporters involved as major stakeholders. He referred to co-op football clubs as “better football clubs” and “better businesses”.

He added co-op football clubs engage with the communities more, being able to build a real connection with their fans. 

Mr Rye explained how many clubs in the League are a bad example of ownership. In his view, the co-op structure is much more reflective of what a football club is.

He gave the example of Portsmouth, saying it should be owned by fans, “by a group of people who sustain it over lifetime”.

According to Kevin Rye, co-op football clubs are also more open and honest and this “is vital in sport”. 

Supporters Direct has been calling for reform of football for many years; the reform has not been completed yet. “We are generally keeping the pressure up on government, but there are things to be done now. We don’t have to wait,” said Kevin Rye. He added it is essential to reform the Football Association. Supporters Direct is also calling for a Government expert group that would investigate ways of reducing barriers to increase ownership.

Said Mr Rye: “More regulation is needed, it is not simply a legal problem”.

Mr Rye also gave examples of successful co-op football clubs in Spain – Barcelona, Real Madrid, Osasuna and Athletic Bilbao, all being owned by their supporters. The co-op ownership model has proven to be successful in Germany as well. All Bundesliga clubs are owned by their supporters and none of them has entered in administration over the past 42 years. On the other hand, since 1986 there have been 68 cases of clubs in English leagues becoming insolvent.

According to Kevin Rye the co-op alternative tends to be considered only in crisis situation. Clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayer Munich prove that this model is sustainable on long-term. In the UK some clubs have become co-ops during crisis, but reverted to private ownership once the danger had passed.

However, even in cases when football clubs reverted to private ownership after they had been under co-op ownership, supporters managed to secure rights to ensure they do not completely lose their influence. This was the case of York and Brentford.

Exeter, Wimbledon, Wycombe Wanderers, and Wrexham are fully owned by their fans. According to Kevin Rye, Swansea is also a very stable model. He said the club has achieved a lot in the past three years, with their fans co-operative owning 20% of the club.

A successful football club owned by its supporters is Exeter City FC. Read more about the club's successful story here.

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