Supporter Ownership in Scotland

Date: 9th April 2015

There are currently four community owned clubs in senior Scottish football – Stirling Albion, East Stirlingshire, Dunfermline Athletic and Clyde.

Our CEO Paul Goodwin has played a role at both Stirling Albion and Dunfermline Athletic, in each of these cases, ensuring that supporters groups were listened to and that the process of clubs moving into community ownership was conducted in a way that represented the best interests of supporters. He was also instrumental in the successful transformation of the FoH (Foundation of Hearts) and the initial set up of Rangers First. In addition to this, he has also provided advice to Motherwell and Livingston who are at different stages in this process.

Why Community Ownership?

There are many reasons why we believe that community ownership is a positive way forward for Scottish Football. Below we have listed just some of the areas that we believe that such an ownership structure can greatly enhance the opportunities for a football club and its supporters:

Strategic Alliances easier to form

  • Community ownership allows clubs to develop deeper and more long-term strategic partnerships with the local community and businesses.
  • Developing a greater sense of shared agendas and partnerships between local authorities, clubs and business at a time where there is significant focus on community projects and activities.
  • When a club is Supporter owned with a structure that means it needs to report to its members this builds a level of trust and responsibility.
  • It is far easier for supporter/community owned clubs to align agendas with public or private strategic partners.  This helps meet strategic objectives that can help the wider community.
  • A community owned structure means that there is automatically increased transparency.  This helps build trust between organisations.

Financial information more accessible

  • Community ownership creates a greater sense of financial responsibility; an increased recognition for clubs to live within their means.
  • It allows fan owned clubs to raise finance in other, in less conventional ways; such as via ‘Community Shares or through longer term funding initiatives and membership schemes.
  • Fans often complain that clubs have kept them in the dark.  With a Community owned club there is more transparency in terms of the club’s finances plus relevant information more accessible to fans.

Sponsorship opportunities enhanced

  • Sponsors are attracted to community owned clubs due to the more complete buy-in that supporter have to these clubs. This has added a new level of loyalty and responsibility from the stakeholders owning the club.
  • In England, attendance figures are generally higher when compared with competitors at the same level; e.g. FC United of Manchester and AFC Wimbledon.
  • It is also a deeper association that enhances the reputational value for sponsors, i.e. being associated with a club owned by its supporters can provide added value.
  • Community reputational value can help to forge longer-term relationships between club and sponsor. We saw at Stirling Albion where the Sponsor intended to leave the club then recommitted for an additional 4 years.  This made Prudential the longest running sponsorship in Scottish Football.

Transparency, Openness and Trust

  • All supporter owned clubs have to publish annual accounts that have to be approved by members at their AGM.
  • Provides a level of scrutiny and recourse for supporters as well as a level of public transparency that is often lacking at other clubs where benefactors can choose what they wish to tell the stakeholders.
  • At community clubs there is a level of openness and transparency not seen at conventional clubs. We believe that this is a key factor in developing and maintaining relationships across all areas of the business.

Business a Pleasure

Community ownership is NOT new, many years ago when football first started; it was the way that most of our clubs were run. A return to this type of structure offers better democracy, governance and further fan involvement in the ownership of cultural and social institutions.  In addition to this, individual investors can still get something out of involvement in fan owned clubs. As the cases at Stirling Albion, Pars United and Foundation of Hearts show, supporters are happy to work with the business acumen of the investors, especially if they help by providing funding to buy the club or stadia and work with them to build a long term sustainable future for the clubs.

Supporter Ownership in Scotland – a new beginning

In 2014 The SFA’s National Football Supporters Survey, revealed a strong majority of fans believed that community ownership model can work in Scotland. As each new venture takes place it builds a confidence that this approach can work regardless of the size of the club involved.

Our team members have vast experience or working in this sector and have worked with (and in some instances are still working with) clubs such as Heart of Midlothian, Motherwell, Kilmarnock, Annan, East Fife, Livingston and Falkirk to further involve supporters in the ownership and governance of clubs. With a strong management team that includes an Accountancy and Restructuring partner and a Legal practice, we are sure that the SFSA can support any fans organisations in developing and growing the community ownership model.

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