Saturday, 30 May 2020

Giving fans a stake in the club

I am an opponent of fan ownership of clubs for both empirical and theoretical reasons.  However, that does not mean that I dismiss the case for fans having a stake in their club, although I think that the Bundesliga model is overrated - and has been evaded by wealthy individuals and businesses.

A well-known Charlton fan (for the avoidance of doubt, not Rick Everitt) made the following comment which I think contains some very good points:  'When it comes to fan ownership, I’m cautious about it. Given the dislike of CASTrust by some fans is shows how fans can’t work together in large enough groups. It can work at lower levels and in an emergency, but you can’t run a business by committee. Having said that I do firmly believe in fans having a stake in their club, and its assets, as a way of at least making it more difficult for owners to take harmful actions like selling off club land for their own profit etc.'

The big challenge is how one might achieve this.   In the longer run, we need a proper regulatory framework for football and I have a book on this theme under contract with Agenda.  Do I have the answers yet?  No.

Charlton was, of course, a pioneer of the 'fan on the board' model which was eventually abandoned.  I remember aeons ago going to see the then fan director with another well-known Charlton fan who had been a key figure in the Valley Party.   I can't remember after all this time what we were concerned about, but all we got was a series of evasive answers.   We tried to console ourselves with a curry in Blackheath.

The particular fan director has gone to join Sam Bartram and I wouldn't want to criticise him personally, because I think the problem was structural.  As it so happened, his occupation helped him to give answers which confused and lacked substance.   Just to clarify, he was not one of the quite substantial Charlton following in a location on Millbank.   If they tell you their name is 'Brian', it isn't.

The structural problem was twofold.   First, Charlton had (and has) quite a complex board structure.  I was challenged to explain it on Radio 5 once and got myself tied up in knots.  However, as far as I could work out, the fan director was on a 'legitimising' board rather than a decision-making one, recalling Bagheot's distinction between 'dignified' and 'efficient' institutions.

The second issue was that the fan director was necessarily constrained by considerations of commercial confidentiality.

I'm not saying that the fans on the board achieved nothing and the more accomplished ones knew the value of a quiet word behind the scenes.   But I don't think reinventing them is the way forward, even if we had a board worthy of the name. 

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