The concept of fan-led community ownership is one that has only largely come to the forefront in recent years. Today, in the UK alone, around 30 clubs are now being owned or majority owned by their supporters. The natural driving force behind such a change in the ownership structure typically revolves around the survival of the club in question, pulling said club back from the brink of extinction. But why does this have to be the case? With the benefits that coincide with community ownership, why should clubs wait until they are staring administration or possible extinction in the face before considering fan control? Why not put the fate of the club into the hands of those who truly love and care about it most, people who can be trusted to make each and every decision for the real benefit of the club itself?
It is fast becoming an old cliché to look to the German football model as the glowing example of how football should be governed. However, when discussing the topic of fan ownership it would be naive to ignore it. The manner in which German clubs have adopted fan ownership solely to prosper the league, placing fans and club traditions ahead of profits has resulted in a thriving, financially stable league envied the world over. Germany refused to wait until individual clubs were on their last legs before considering this ownership structure, instead introducing the concept as a legal requirement whereby a minimum of 50% + 1 share of the club must be owned by club members, and who could argue with the results?
For a club such as Motherwell FC, who to the outside eye is deemed to be successful both on and off the pitch, many may question the need to change the ownership structure. However in today’s harsh football climate, you only need to look to the benefits of doing so; benefits identified, trusted and exemplified by the Bundesliga, as reason enough for why following the German mantra and not requiring a crisis point to evoke the consideration of fan ownership can be viewed as a positive step forward.
Financially speaking, the community ownership structure is more than viable. Not only can it be deemed viable but it can in fact be of genuine business benefit to clubs, assisting in their long term health, growth and sustainability. With the financial benefits being numerous, ranging from the added value fan ownership provides when marketing the club to the manner in which said structure can help to develop deeper and more long term strategic partnerships (especially with local authorities, residents and community partners) to simply the positive impact on match day attendances, as supporters realise more so their role in sustaining the club and business that they now own, it is apparent that those who right off the financial potential and security of this ownership structure have failed to do their research.
Not only should the benefits be recognised but also the manner in which such a model results in the avoidance of the pitfalls of the single person ownership model; pitfalls clearly illustrated in Scotland by Craig Whyte’s disastrous tenure as Rangers FC owner. Transparency is a much used buzzword in not only the football industry but in all areas of the business world today. And again you only have to look to Rangers FC to witness the disastrous repercussions of a lack of transparency. It is only natural that with the difficulties Scotland has faced as a football nation and with the amount of clubs suffering financial difficulties, football fans demand a high level of transparency surrounding the dealing of their much loved and treasured club. If a fan ownership structure was to be implemented naturally the level of transparency would increase as fans that truly care look to make the best decisions for the club, each other and the community as a whole.
So why does a club such as Motherwell FC have to wait for a crisis point to consider fan ownership? In fact why does any club in Scotland have to do so? Should supporters not naturally be at the heart of everything to do with the running of what is essentially their club? With supporters at the head much needed steps could be taken to soften today’s harsh football climate, allowing Scotland to, like Germany, become a much more financially stable football nation in which fan owned clubs act more financially responsible and learn more so to live within their means. Arguably a vastly more sustainable approach than relying on wealthy individuals, who past experiences have taught us do not always have the best interest of the club in question at heart.
Scotland is in need of a club willing to be a leader, an innovator, a club that is not reliant on crisis or the actions of others to make the move into a fan ownership structure. Who is to say this couldn’t this be Motherwell FC? If a club the size and with the reputation of Motherwell FC were to take such steps it would both encourage and pave the way for other clubs to follow suit. In doing so maybe one day we as a football nation could be viewed less as a nation in crisis and compared more to that of the prosperous, envied and financially stable football nation of Germany.
Words: Graeme Donnelly @graemed86