Earlier this month, 10,000 Liverpool supporters walked out of Anfield during a match against Sunderland in protest at plans for a further hike in ticket prices. Incidents such as these speak to growing discontent among fans and supporters of sports clubs. This is particularly true in football, which has, since the launch of the Premiere League in the early 90s, seen an influx of big money and billionaire owners.
David Cameron has promised to “look carefully” into rising ticket prices, which is welcome. But it’s also time to address the fundamental issue – accountability. It’s time for fans to have a more active role in determining how their club is run.
In January Supporters Direct, which works to organise and support fans’ trusts, published a report which lays out the practical steps needed to increase community ownership of sports clubs throughout the UK.
The report, entitled Incentivising and Supporting Community Ownership in Sport, proposes a new tax status for democratically owned clubs which meet specific criteria.
Under their proposals, fan-owned clubs would be rewarded for making sure ownership is inclusive, protecting assets from being hijacked by private interests, and making sure proceeds filter back into the club and their communities.
The financial incentive for fan-owned clubs to take advantage of this status would be significant. Clubs would benefit from Gift Aid on donations, 80% rate relief and have exemption from Corporation Tax. All of this would release cash which, as not-for-profit organisations, the Club would be free to reinvest.
But the benefits of this scheme aren’t simply financial. Community ownership enables greater financial transparency and fairer, more effective governance in sport, including decisions on how to set and maintain affordable ticket prices.
Clubs which have already adopted the criteria being proposed enjoy stronger working relationships with the communities they serve. Local people are more likely to play an active role in participating in and volunteering for such clubs, generating hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of additional value.
Rather than ending up in shareholders pockets, this windfall can then be invested in community projects that promote education, health and social inclusion, and to further develop local sport by delivering local services and facilities.
The proof that these kinds of mutually beneficial relationships work already exists- and those who do it are waiting for a framework that will enable them to expand. AFC Telford, formed with a supporters’ trust, partnered with Telford and Wrekin councils to deliver education services in the community. Lewes CFC enjoys deep roots within the town, employing a large number of local people, while, driven by a new ownership scheme, Merthyr Town FC in Wales unlocked over £2 million in funding for new community sports facilities.
The Co-operative Party has long been a champion of fan ownership in sport. We were directly involved with the formation of Supporters Direct, which advocates and provides support for fans who seek influence in the ownership of their clubs.
We’ve also been active proponents of supporters’ trusts throughout the UK, calling for these organisations to have more direct involvement in how their clubs are run. HMRC and the Treasury should support the measures outlined by Supporters Direct.
It’s crucial that as commercial pressures on clubs both large and small continue to grow, communities and supporters remain the number one priority.