Is Brentford’s Fan Ownership The Model for the Rest of the Football League?
“Too Big for This League,”
“Too Big for This League,”
“We’re the Barcelona,”
“Of the Lower Leagues,”
Fan Ownership at Barcelona is well known throughout the world but not many know about the Fan Ownership at West London’s very own Barcelona….
Recently we have all seen the invasion of foreign owners into the English game with a lot bringing positive changes to the club, although I doubt Blackburn will think the same about the Venkys.
However with the serious financial trouble seen at Portsmouth, Crystal Palace and Plymouth recently it seems that there is more of a reason for clubs to start being more sustainable and self-sufficient not relying on ‘Sugar Daddies’ for the future of the club. Through the help of Supporters Direct, who have actually recently had their funding cut, a few clubs, albeit more in non-league have turned to fan ownership. In the Football League though the club owned mostly by the fans is Brentford FC of West London.
In 2006 the club were taken over by supporters group Bees United who had raised money through the fans and through supporters direct. At the time some fans even went on a mammoth bike ride fundraising. Brentford are my second team and going with a friend to see them play I’ll always remember on the wall that there was a scale showing how much they had risen to date.
They got the majority shareholding of the club, 60% in January 2006 and currently own 60.3% of the club. Recently the club have received some more financial clout with professional gambler Matthew Bentham, who according to a trusted source of mine, well a friend, “knows what he’s doing.” He committed to investing £1 million a year in the club for five years in 2010 and bought 35 per cent of the club with the option of buying up to 75 per cent of the shares in 2014.
But is fan ownership a positive move not only for Brentford and could we see it more in English Football in the near future? It says on the official Bees United site:
“Through Bees United the influence of ordinary supporters in the future of the Football Club has increased significantly, and with it democracy and accountability.”
And this is really the whole premise behind fan ownership. At Brentford they have stabilised since the takeover and despite a relegation to League Two they are now back in League One sitting just one point outside the play off places but behind 3 former Premier League clubs in Charlton, Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday which means the chance of promotion is still fairly low. Performances on the pitch are not now overshadowed by financial woes. It has worked so far at Brentford. So will we see a rise in fan ownership in clubs soon?
In the Football League currently there are only 3 clubs; Brentford, Exeter and AFC Wimbledon that are really supporter run along with some big non-league sides such as the newly reformed AFC Rushden and Diamonds and Chester City F.C.
In Germany clubs, apart from those that have historical ties with businesses such as Wolfsburg are required to have 51% fan ownership. The Bundesliga has the highest average attendance of any football league across the whole world with an average of just under 42,000 last year. However the one thing that really separates the Bundesliga from English football is that last season the average ticket price was only €21,89 whereas in the Premier League only 6 clubs’ cheapest matchday ticket is less than this.
This is probably how it could work in England, part ownership for medium sized clubs. It can work with wholly fan ownership in non-league and the lower leagues where running cost are lower .Also with the huge clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool you can see it working due to their huge fan bases and stadiums such as at Barcelona and Real Madrid, more so when you consider the anger vented at the Glazers at Manchester United and the previous Hicks and Gillett regime on Merseyside. The thing is though for clubs like Wigan, who have the same yearly matchday income than Chelsea gain in one home game, according to ESPN in their recent match, who have high running costs and a small fanbase it will be hard for them to be self-sufficient without some form of external investment.
Attendances at some Football League clubs such as Leeds are down almost 15% which together with the current financial climate is leading to a huge amount of financial worries in English Football. Debts are soaring at big and smaller clubs and many fans are becoming disgruntled with the way some owners treat their clubs.
True supporters of teams would really rather secure the long-term future of their clubs through fan ownership than see a detached investor bring some short term success that could potentially lead to the extinction of the club, as nearly seen at Portsmouth. It gets rid of short termism which has become all too commonplace in English football and brings about added transparency that a lot of supporters want and crave. Now, of course it could mean an eventual lack of funds and a compromise in spending but this is the case with single investors anyway.
Full blown fan ownership may not work as effectively in England as it has for Barcelona, Real Madrid, Osasuna and Athletic Bilbao. The German model of 51% ownership by supporters will probably be the way forward for a lot of English clubs in the future with a want to secure the long term future and for supporters to make a positive and big impact on their club.