Co-operative club Real Madrid is chasing another Champions League trophy

As Real Madrid prepares for another Champions League final on 24 May, the club’s co-operative ownership model is in the spotlight again. Real Madrid members have owned and...

As Real Madrid prepares for another Champions League final on 24 May, the club’s co-operative ownership model is in the spotlight again.

Real Madrid members have owned and operated the club since its inception, more than 100 years ago. As the favourite in the Lisbon final against rivals Atlético Madrid, and with nine Champions League trophies, the club proves that co-operative ownership can be a real alternative to privately-owned football clubs. 

Real is structured as a member-owned co-operative society. Members elect the president, who can stand for re-election, for a four-year mandate. Spanish co-operative clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid cannot be listed on the stock market and can only raise finance from fans. The 100,000 Real supporters that own the club are not led by a desire to make profit.

The club can also afford to spend spectacular amounts on transfers also because its annual revenues have made it the biggest club in the world. According to Deloitte, Real Madrid’s revenues reached £440m in the 2011/2012 season.

Currently on his fourth term, President Florentino Pérez has throughout years led a campaign of acquiring the best football players in the world, including Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham, Ricardo Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo. While Pérez’s policy focused on exploiting the club’s marketing potential has attracted some criticism, the club’s ownership structure has been praised by a number of senior football figures, including UEFA President Michel Platini. The French football legend said he “loved” the management structure of Real Madrid and Barcelona because the members remained responsible for the club and their decisions.

“[Football] when you really come down to it, belongs in the sphere of human emotions. Real Madrid is a kind of religion for millions all over the world. You can’t have that in the hands of one individual. It’s as if the Catholic Church belonged to one person. It wouldn’t be right,” he said.

Co-op ownership has also proven to be very successful in Germany and Spain. Thirty-three out of the 36 clubs in the Bundesliga are owned by their supporters and none of them have entered into administration over the past 42 years. Fans own at least 51 per cent of each club, which means that no individual can take control of the club. In the case of Bayern Munich, 130,000 fans own 84 per cent of the club.

This year, co-operatively-owned football clubs have had a strong run in Champions League with last year’s winners Bayern Munich reaching the semi-finals stage of the competition and Barcelona reaching the quarterfinals. The most successful team in Europe in recent years, Barcelona is also a co-operative. The club has won the competition in 2006, 2009 and 2012.

Kevin Rye of Supporters Direct, an organisation representing over 180 supporters trusts, thinks these positive results prove the success of the co-operative model in football. He said: “The fact that year-after-year co-operatively, supporter owned clubs keep appearing in the latter stages of top football competitions is just continued reinforcing that the model works and can more than compete with clubs owned by oligarchs and oil money. We no longer have fight to make the case for the model – it’s sitting in front of us.”

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