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If the EPL is about to go bust, what can we as fans do to resurrect it?

If the EPL is about to go bust, what can we as fans do to resurrect it?

Rhys Jaggar

Sensationalism has been our diet on the back pages, on the internet and at fanzines for the past decade. Foreign ‘billionaires’ coming in, huge debts to pay off, great dreams of Kaka, Ronaldo or Zidane coming to our shores: that’s the rollercoaster ride we all absorbed as a price of following the EPL.

Well: not all of us. I make no claims to be superior for not being taken in, merely that I learned my lessons about being taken in between 1997 and 2000 in other arenas, notably with ‘scholars’ and with ‘business schools’. At that time  I was shocked, depressed, outraged, hopeful and then I simply took a decision to do something new.

Having analysed a pack of medical companies for my MBA internship in summer 1999 (and thought they were a bit highly priced BEFORE they went up 500% in six months) I drew up an Excel spreadsheet to model football clubs for fun in around 2001.

I wanted to see if I could work out what the belligerent Scotsman in Manchester had done and how you could build a business out of Hull, Plymouth or Bury, all of which were struggling at the time.  I also did one for the Arsenal with a new ground as well. And I thought: these businesses could pay a 3 – 5% dividend if well managed, after spending quite a few years paying down the debt……

I saw the Russian come in to Chelsea and said: ‘How can a ground with 42,000 repay £250m in transfer fees and £250m in salaries?’ I reckoned that it couldn’t. Did the sums.  And I pondered how this wasn’t considered the oligarch’s way of giving ‘state aid’, which is highly illegal in the EU…….until I heard that it was loans, not grants. Ho hum….

And I thought about the fans.

The one thing on our side is that ticket prices are already so high that a raider can’t push tickets up much more as a storyline to justify a purchase. Which means their way to take the money out would be with each player departing to an optimised ‘exit return’ and profits going to the owner not to the manager.

When Stan Kroenke’s name surfaced and Dein departed, I wasn’t too sure what was really going on but I could see that the LBO (Glazer) against organic growth (PHW and the Arsenal Board) argument was likely tearing the Board’s hair out. I wrote a judge-like assessment of the two cases and wondered what the ways out might be in my head, which I deliberately left out of the judgement case. As it wasn’t my job to make judgements when not a shareholder. And I posed myself a tough question: ‘What is Arsenal FC all about?’  It’s a question many clubs might reasonably ponder on and ask whether their clubs are aligned to their purpose………

And around 2007/8, I dreamed up my ‘4-3-3’ ownership formation for Arsenal FC. It could be for someone else’s club, but that was the club whose finances I had studied the most so I did the spreadsheet for the Arsenal. A what if?

I wondered this: would fans be interested in owning 25 – 30% of the club? Would employees and players/ex-players be interested in owning 25 – 30% of the club? And would the Directors be prepared to be limited to 40 – 50% in total?

My initial thoughts were these: most fans wouldn’t shell out for shares on top of season tickets unless they were rich. And most players could make more money from putting their pension pot into other places.

But what if fans built their ownership position slowly? £100 a year wouldn’t break most. So 95000 fans paying £1000 in a decade would be £95m equity injection, which would allow someone like Lady Bracewell-Smith to exit or reduce shareholding somewhat without taking a ‘do-or-die’ one-off decision right now. And 4500 fans paying £10000 in a decade would be another £45m. And a small number of rich fans, say 500 who might already be shareholders, owning £55m of shares, each holding around £100,000. That would be a £200m bloc of shares owned by 100,000 fans. You could spread it through 20 years if you wanted to…….

You could do the same with players and employees. Payment partly in shares, with an employee pool building up through the years. Would fans begrudge employees an annual coupon? Would players accept any payment in shares?? All things to think about…….

Not so easy currently at Arsenal of course. Each share costs nearly £10000. So share splits would be necessary to do that sort of thing. But it could be a way to keep Arsenal in friendly ownership whilst rewarding our Directors for the job they did since 1980. If they wanted to. Which they might not.

At Arsenal all this is quite academic: the Board run the club well and don’t necessarily want to sell their shares to fans, and although Arsenal Supporters Trust are buying up shares, the membership is small, so the number of shares bought is small.

But at other clubs, this could be a way to bring them back from the brink and into responsible ownership.

What would the challenges be?

  1. Finding a third party of sufficient repute and wealth who would buy a club from the brink, then allow the fans to buy it from them slowly. Would the Bank of England consider it?? Or the FA?? Or in the case of smaller clubs, the local council??
  2. Building the structures, legal and organisational, to ensure that fan ownership didn’t stop professional Boards running the club responsibly.
  3. Ensuring that banking partners were sufficiently confident about the new ownership structures to enable continued goodwill in terms of facilities and working capital.
  4. Ensuring that the constitution of the club enshrined the belief system of the particular sets of fans, employees etc. A Cheltenham Town might be different from Newcastle Utd might be different from Arsenal FC.

What might the benefits be?

  1. Stability of ownership and long-term protection of the interests of fans, whose faith passes down through generations.
  2. Influencing League organisers and clubs to focus on fan experience and enjoyment as a key part of our footballing culture.
  3. Representation on the Board for fan groupings to ensure that major financial decisions taken are consonant with the interests of the fans.

Is this a concept which might be a way to bring sanity back to the EPL?

I don’t know. Because I don’t know how many fans would be prepared to make the commitments necessary to make it happen.

But if there’s one thing I know for sure, it is this: if you want something doing properly, it’s a good idea to think about how you would do it yourself. Before you prejudge the actions of others in a too damning manner…….

And if fans really want their football clubs run in a cautious, prudent and financially stable way, then they may need to take the plunge, slowly but surely, to gain sufficient representation on Club Boards to ensure that that is so………..

And it might be of benefit for the FA and the EPL to consider that one of the key mechanisms, long-term, to ensure ‘fit and proper ownership’ of our clubs in the 21st century……….

UNTOLD RUMOURS

In a clever twist the Daily Sponge has brought together its two eternal rumours saying that Andre Arshavin has pledged to leave Arsenal is Cesc Fabregas goes, because the property market is more stable in Spain.

David Sullivan has offered the West Ham players a free porno magazine to share  if they win their next six games on the trot.

Barcelona and Real Madrid are fighting it out for the right to buy Portsmouth.  That’s Portsmouth the city, (or is it a town) not the football club.   “The club is not worth a Euro,” said Ima Tellingyou, a spoke in the Spanish League, “but the harbour has possibilities.”

WHAT YOU MISSED BECAUSE YOU WEREN’T READING PROPERLY

(and I really wish you would pay attention)

Billy the Dog in Porto: a pre-match special unlike any other

We’re slowly solving the question of Arsenal’s reserves at the start of the 20th century Read the latest

Why did Arsenal move to Highbury and not somewhere else?

Making the Arsenal. The story of how the modern Arsenal was made.  A must for every Arsenal fan with a sense of humour.

From Man U to Mansfield – how football is falling apart and what three guys have done to stop it.  Read here.

10 comments to If the EPL is about to go bust, what can we as fans do to resurrect it?

  • walter

    Very intresting article.
    One that needs some time to think about it. It could well be that it is just my brains that work a bit slow.

    But at first sight it looks a very good idea.

  • well-endowed gooner

    The question is how many clubs have reverted to fan-ownership after they’ve been turned into a pty ltd. I don’t think it’s feasible to get 100,000 fans subscribing to a buy-back scheme over 10 years. There’s the rise in stock price, for one. And I can’t see fans donating 100 pounds so that some geezer they’ve never hear of can buy shares of their club, and then sit on it. Something like the Shareholders Trust is important to act as an independent spokesperson for the fans, but it’ll never be something that would influence the club.

    What happens when a football club goes under? Can the company be back bought from the debtors? I think the most feasible means of a club reverting to fan-ownership is when the club declares bankruptcy and has to be sold. If that ever happens, of course.

    And I’m wondering if you’ve considered implications of letting the nutters run the madhouse, so to speak. You’re probably aware of the craziness in Spain every time a club presidency is up for election. I’m not sure it’s that easy to get fan-elected boards with long-term goals and vision, with financial prudence and ambition. It’s possible, but just not likely.

  • walter

    If I understand it well I think Rhys Jaggar wants 3 party’s involved in the club : the board that we know now for some 40 % and then 30 % players/ex-players and the other 30% to fans.

    So this would mean that in every decision the board takes has to get the approval from the players or from the fans. This doesn’t seem to bad idea and maybe it would have prevented MU to go on the path they are going with huge debt as result.

    But on the other hand would the fans be prudent enough to prevent that way ? If the board says : we going to buy players like mad to win the title next year it could well mean that the fans follow the board just to win a trophy.

    I think if we look at our own fans you can see that there would be a lot out there who are willing to risk the future just to win anything today….

  • AGS

    Great article Rhys – we need ideas like this to come into the fore and be discussed. There needs to be a redressing of the divorce between ownership and control issue, and this is not just pertinent to football clubs, but to the wider world of business in general.
    To add to your article, my personal opinion is that the fans already own the clubs, but it is just typical of todays society that people do not realise the real power they have as a collective body or force. What would a board of directors have to do if the fans came to them and said “we have all got together and we have decided that we are going to boycott buying season tickets and merchandise and attending games until you resign or tell us exactly how the club is being run etc etc” (or words to similar effect)
    Football clubs are the fans and nothing else – they wouldn’t even exist without the fans. Owners and Directors sit in control of these clubs because they own worthless pieces of paper saying they have a share in the club, and because of this they make decisions and run things according to their own agendas – Arsenals board is no different in many respects. And they prey and manipulate on the love the fans have for their club and the fans desire to see their club do well – hikes in ticket prices, 2 new shirts to buy every year, payments to agents, management fees, and obscene wages to average players Its all our money they are throwing about or using to pay back dodgy loans from bogus investors.
    If only the fans would find the way to wield their undoubted power, there would be no need to buy shares and have representatives on boards of directors – we would be the board of directors.

  • AGS – something like you suggest in terms of protest action has been going on for a year or more at Chester. The owners have hung on and hung on, until the club is about to be thrown out of the league for not fulfilling fixtures.

    That is just one example, but I fear that most of the fixers and chancers who run the clubs thing that fans are stupid and can easily be bought off.

    Tony

  • Hartwick89

    Rhys & Tony,

    I always love the injection of diversity in to Untold. It makes me come back and come back…. I might say the most intelligent site I visit.
    Anyway, my thought is good concept theoretically, but only if you had intelligent fans. As you can see or read it wouldn’t work for Arsenal. Every now and then some of those fans write on this page and show you how ridiculous they can be.
    But, I guess if football became in dire straights like predictably it looks like it is going to be fans will need to do something to restore their team/s. If the league falls apart the current owners will run as far away as they can and an opportunity may exist for something new. I say why not.

  • simon bailey

    nice one Rhys.

    i think that a supporters trust owning 30% of a club is a great idea. the trust would have to have a non voice as far as day to day runnings, but a small voice in major issues such as renewal of infrastructure.

    if i understand correctly, the fact that the ownership is in the 4;3;3 model would mean that overall buyouts couldnt happen. if it was then stipulated that no private owner could own more than say a quarter of the 40% it would make it even more stable.

    the players 30% worries me a tad, what happens when one of them leave, or would the 30% be administered by a trust like the supporters 30%.

    the D&G brigade do worry me, but they probably wouldnt buy shares knowing that it wouldnt give them a voice at the club at all.

    one thing is for sure, things wont get better by changing the odd rule here or there, there needs to be a complete overhaul of the whole financial situation. the fa needs to be taken out of private hands and clubs should have to apply for a license at the beginning of every season.

  • walter

    Simon I can only agree on your proposal for a license at the beginning of every season. BUT then the rules have to be applied for everyone and everytime.
    In my country we have such a system but the FA is bending the rules according to which team has run in to problems. Result is that during the season a club goes bankrupt and that shouldn’t have started or got a license at the beginning of the season.
    Good rules is one thing but seeing the rules being used correct… that is something completely different

  • Paul C.

    I have long thought that the AST should have a larger portion of shares but of course they need the money to buy them and there must be agreement between the AST and Board as to what voting/decision rights the shares give the AST. Let’s face it, fans want to spend money stupidly, and as others have mentioned re. Barca and Madrid Presidential elections, there are always people who are willing to play to that and risk the clubs money for egotistical purposes.

    There is no reason a single owner has to be a bad idea. In fact, there are many, many cases where a single owner can be the greatest thing that ever happened to a club. Stan Kroenke has an excellent track record already of running his franchises intelligently. As another example, look up Robert Kraft and see what he has done for the New England Patriots.

    What we would never want is a BAD owner. And let’s face it, the fans could be just as bad as any individual.

  • Fem Dee

    It seems a good model to try out on financially smaller-sized football clubs in trouble with the town or council providing the lead – for the sake of saving jobs and keeping the history, good feel etc of the city/council area.
    However, for bigger clubs with entrenched and diverse owners that are also not in dire financial trouble, it will be near impossible to get the owners to dilute their ownership/interest without much greater financial incentives – which the model cannot afford.