By SD Scotland contributor John Friary
The latest BDO Annual Survey of Football Finance Directors Report was published in August reporting the vast amount of money available to the English Premier League over the next few years to be in excess of £8 Billion. Whilst Most EPL Clubs are getting richer the money is not filtering through to other Divisions and especially not to the Scottish Premier League. It reports that Football continues to move away from it working class roots not just to the world of Rich Men’s Playgrounds but to lucrative business opportunities for large businesses.
So where does that leave the game in Scotland? The report highlights what they refer to as “the incredibly low TV rights income compared with English football” with 40% of SPL Clubs claiming to have significant or severe financial problems up to the point of near administration. The Report also describes the lack of significant investor interest and therefore the reliance on their loyal fan-base and player trading activity for survival.
Two of the five Scottish Clubs who were in difficulty were reliant on their principle shareholder to plug losses or shortfalls and three had issued a fixed charge on their stadium as loan security. However it was also reported that Scottish Clubs had learned the hard financial lessons from a past which had resulted in a number of clubs going into administration so there was a degree of limited optimism about the future of the Scottish game.
The report does conclude that “more routes to fan engagement, whether for purely sporting or commercial reasons, can only be a good thing for the consumer”.
It is interesting that a third of the SPL Clubs Owners responding are considering a partial or full exit within the next 18 month three times higher than the EPL Clubs perhaps suggesting that the traditional styles of Club Ownership in Scotland is not working and that, apart from a couple of obvious examples, Scottish Football Clubs need to look internally to its Fan base for a new type of Business Model owning based on partial or complete transfer of Ownership to the Fans.
Fans Groups owning or part their Football Club can help add tremendous value to Scottish football and the likes of Stirling Albion, Clyde, Motherwell, St Mirren and Hearts have proven it’s a proven business model and has been adopted not only by Scottish clubs but across the UK and overseas.
Dunfermline Athletic FC are a very good example of this model after going into Administration and under threat of liquidation as recently as 2013 with a Pars United Group successfully taking over the Club in October of that same year. St Mirren Fans Group, The St. Mirren Independent Supporters Association (SMISA), have also just successfully completed a Part Ownership takeover of their Club in July 2016 so this can and does work and can provide financial stability to the football Club and greatly improve the relationship with the Fans and the local Community where it is based.
The perceived and real financial problems of Scottish Football operating in all of the four SPFL Leagues and the unlikely prospect of significant external investment to the vast majority of these Clubs alongside the Report suggestions that a third of Scottish Clubs Owners may be considering withdrawal over the next few years may create a perfect opportunity for more Supporter Trusts and groups to invest and own shares in the Club they have supported loyally for years and therefore have a say in the direct running and operations of the Club and in future years this may become the normal model of Football with more openness, transparency and public accountability especially to those who turn up to support them.
Scottish Clubs are regularly the best supported proportionally in Europe so it would seem entirely right for them to own their Clubs and have a real say in the future of Scottish football.
Clubs and Supporters Trusts are encouraged to visit SD Scotland’s consultancy service Club Development Scotland to find out more about the services and advice open to them regarding transitioning to greater supporter involvement and ownership.