3. Options for Legislation: Supporters' Right to Influence their Football Club
The Scottish Government is seeking views on four broad options for developing legislation (through regulation) to improve supporter involvement in their clubs. One option is to enshrine in legislation the rights of supporters to influence their football club.
Supporter involvement in clubs is seen as a pre-requisite to supporter influence in order for supporters to know what is going on at a club and to input in an informed manner. Supporter involvement ranges from supporter engagement in a clubs' community and social activities and supporter communications, to their involvement in governance and management of their clubs.
The Working Group for Supporter Involvement in Football Clubs recommended that initiatives, facilitated by the football authorities, but led by independent experts, be provided for football club directors, owners and staff, these focusing on enhancing clubs' understanding of potential benefits arising from enhanced supporter involvement.
The Group also proposed the identification, encouragement and rewarding of best practice through a Supporter Involvement Award; the wider publication of information about Supporter Liaision Officers ( SLOs); the publication on a club's website of Board appointments and the underlying rationale for these; and making the publication of the ultimate owner of a football club a condition of participation in the SPFL.
Question 1: What are your views on making a law to give supporters the right to influence their club?
600 respondents addressed this question, including all of the organisations and 575 individuals.
It was evident that respondents interpreted "influence" in many different ways, with their view on whether there should be a law to support this grounded in these different interpretations. Some respondents considered supporters to have considerable influence already, choosing whether or not to purchase a ticket for a match was considered to be one way in which influence can be exerted. At the other end of the scale, "influence" was perceived by some to be closer in concept to "governance", with their views relating to a more formal role for supporters within their club.
Against this background, the vast majority of respondents, both organisations and individuals, were in favour of supporters having opportunities to influence their club, with the majority of these considering that the right of supporters to influence their clubs should be enshrined in law. However, a signficiant minority of respondents, although agreeing that supporters should have opportunities to influence, did not agree that this should be formalised in legislation.
Reasons given in support of making a law to give supporters the right to influence their club
Very few substantive comments were made specifically in favour of legislating for supporters' rights to influence their club. The most common rationale was that legislation to underpin supporters' rights to influence their club will help to make clubs more open and accountable, thus reducing the risk of mis-management.
Although some respondents acknowledged that supporters can already influence their clubs in various ways, they felt that legislative backing would provide "teeth" to strengthen the informal arrangements.
A few commented that enshrining in law supporters' rights to influence their club could change management/owner current perceptions of supporters being "captive audiences", and could possibly make supporters feel more responsible for their club, its portayal in the media, and the behaviour of the club's supporters overall.
A few respondents qualified their support for legislation, stating, for example, that supporters should have the right to influence so long as they are realistic about the scope of influence within the overall business model of the club. Others emphasised that the law should be meaningful, in that supporters should not be kept in the dark about aspects of the club's business.
"Obviously in order to do this the ownership structure of the club must be open and transparent...." (The Scottish Co-Operative Party).
General views on the benefits of supporters influencing their club
Many respondents, whether or not they were in favour of making a law to give supporters the right to influence their club, elaborated on what they perceived to be the benefits of supporter influence.
The most commonly held view was that this will put supporters at the centre of the club, which is right and proper, to reflect their contribution as the lifeblood of the club.
"...they are the club's bread and butter and without fans the clubs would not exist" (Individual).
"Football clubs and managers talk about the twelfth man and how important supporters are to the performance of the team yet their thoughts are generally ignored" (Individual).
Other common views were that giving supporters influence within their club will promote openness and transparency in club affairs and will help to protect against the risk of poor decisions which may not be in the club's long-term interests.
Further views were that supporters' influence would contribute to embedding the club within the local community and promoting social capital. This was envisaged as adding a social/emotional dimension to decision-making which would provide a more rounded approach to the running of the club. Some felt that involving supporters in this way would build greater loyalty to the club; provide consistency in governance; build trust; and ultimately contribute to a more successful business.
"It is important in any business that the customers are consulted and have a say in the running or structure of their club" (Cumnock Academy).
Despite identifying potential benefits of supporters being given the opportunity to influence their club, many respondents qualified their view, with a common concern being how to ensure the people in these roles are representative of supporters. Many emphasised the need to ensure different types of supporter have a voice: older, younger, male, female, people with a disability and so on. Some urged that different supporter viewpoints should be represented, "not just the minority with a specific agenda" and not "just the noisy few" (Individual respondents).
" FFC ...recommends that any proposed legislation takes into account the total support base of a club and not just a particular organisation that happens at that time to be affiliated to a national supporters' association" (Falkirk Football and Athletic Club Ltd).
Other concerns expressed were:
- The Board of Directors should not be undermined if they are acting in the interests of the club.
- The scope of influence should be well defined.
- Supporter ideas should be considered within the context of financial constraints of the club and what is best for longer term stability.
- Supporters should have access to the necessary information about commerce, in language they can understand, in order for influence to be meaningful.
Reasons given in opposition to making a law to give supporters the right to influence their club
Many arguments against making a law to give supporters the right to influence their club were documented by the significant minority of respondents who held this view. Three main arguments were raised repeatedly.
The most common was that some clubs are already very well run and already open to influence by supporters, and introducing the proposed legislation could detract from that.
"We believe that most well-run football clubs would see the connection between supporter involvement and a thriving business and, as such, a law may not be required" (East Ayrshire Council).
"...diluting the power of a successful businessman/woman who is running the club well and replacing their influence with supporters who are not experienced in running such an organisation could be costly" (Individual).
Another common argument was that football clubs are businesses with existing legislation governing their operation and duties to their shareholders. The proposed legislation was seen as out of step with this current business model and associated legislative framework. Many individual respondents held this view, for example:
"How can you pass a law to allow anyone, regardless of ability or notion, to have influence over a business or concern?"
"I shop in Tesco. Will the government propose a law to give me a right to influence Tesco's board?"
The third common argument was that the proposed legislation would be ineffective, would not go far enough and would amount to tokenism.
"If this level of involvement is thought to be the limit of what is advisable, there is little point in legislation on the issue" (Individual).
Three further key rationales against making a law to give supporters the right to influence their club were expressed by a smaller number of respondents. Some respondents, including a football club and several individuals, considered that the Scottish Government should not be involved to this extent in football. Another shared view was that the law would be overly bureaucratic, difficult to define, confusing and impractical. Two football clubs, and several individuals considered that legislation would force one way of doing things, whereas " one size does not fit all" clubs.
A range of additional arguments against introducing a law were expressed:
- Not needed as supporters can already influence their club in various ways. For example, "Given Celtic's record of supporter engagement, we do not consider that a new law giving suppporters the right to influence their club is necessary or appropriate" (Celtic plc).
- Could lead to legal challenges.
- Already have Supporter Liaison Officers to do this.
- Private investors could be put off investing.
- Difficult to enforce and police.
- Difficult to reconcile views of different factions of supporters within this.
- Changes the relationship between supporter and club - best to leave this voluntary rather than force it by legislation.
Views on the proposed Supporter Involvement Award
The Working Group recognised the central role of supporters to the social and financial vibrancy of football clubs and proposed the introduction of a Supporter Involvement Award to reward best practice.
Very few individual respondents to the consultation mentioned this proposal, although two of the local government respondents were particularly supportive. Both envisaged the award as providing a "carrot and a stick" which could be used to ensure owners and directors of clubs embrace the principle of supporter involvement and influence in an open and transparent manner.
One individual respondent called for more detailed criteria against which to measure clubs' achievements in terms of involving supporters.
One organisation, however, was particularly critical of the initiative.
"We do not see any merit in the proposed Supporter Involvement Award and are at a loss to understand what this could achieve" (Celtic Supporters' Trust).
Views on Supporter Liaison Officers
Since 2012, all SPFL Premiership clubs have been required under the Union of European Football Association ( UEFA) Club Licensing Regulations to appoint a Supporter Liaison Officer ( SLO). Part of the remit of SLOs is to improve the relationship between various stakeholders, in particular, between supporters and club directors and/or owners.
Very few respondents provided views relating to SLOs, but a few suggested that the role be strengthened by more explicit Government backing, financial support, and greater awareness raising, perhaps by publishing details on club websites as recommended by the Working Group.
Concern was expressed that some clubs appeared to be paying only "lip service" to the requirement to appoint a SLO, perceiving the appointment simply as a box-ticking exercise, with the person not necessarily fulfilling the responsibilities envisaged by UEFA.
General comments were that current mechanisms for supporter involvement ( e.g. supporter organisations; SLOs) should be strengthened and enforced, whether or not further legislation is introduced on supporter involvement.
Views on the proposal to make the publication of beneficiaries of the club a requirement for participation in the SPFL
The Working Group recommended that to participate in the SPFL, a club must declare to the SPFL and to the Scottish FA, and publish the identity of the ultimate beneficial owner of the club. Should that owner be a trust, it was proposed that the club must disclose the ultimate beneficiaries of the trust and the names of the trustees.
A small number of individual respondents and a few organisations provided comments relating to this proposal. Views were broadly in support of the proposal with several respondents welcoming the transparency this would bring, and some urging that the proposal go further to reveal all shareholders and owners of significant assets.
"The Working Group recommendations concerning transparency of the names and responsibilities of directors and owners - including the names of trustees in the event that a trust is a significant owner or part-owner…..are logical and desirable" (Scottish Urban Regeneration Forum).
"As well as the beneficial owner of the football club being declared and published, the beneficial owner of other significant assets associated with the football club should also be disclosed. "Significant assets" might include the stadium, training ground, retail operation etc. Similarly, the Trustees or beneficiaries of any registered charity having a significant association with the football club should also be disclosed and published. "Significant association" might include a reference in the Deed of Trust or other governing document to the football club" (Individual).
Summary of key points
Respondents interpreted "influence" in different ways with their perception determining their views on supporters' right to influence their football club. Interpretation of influence was also recognised by respondents as a potential issue. Nonetheless, the view of a clear majority of respondents, both individual and organisations, was that a law should be made to give supporters the right to influence their club.
The most common reason given in favour of making such a law was that this will make clubs more open and accountable. A recurring view was that supporters are the lifeblood of clubs and they deserve to be able to influence their football club. A frequently raised concern, however, was how to ensure the supporters who could be involved are representative of the wider fan-base.
The most common argument emerging from the minority of respondents opposing making such a law was that some clubs are already very well run and involve supporters in decision-making, and new legislation imposed over and above this would be superfluous or could detract from systems already working well.
Another common view was that, as most football clubs are businesses and subject to existing legislation and duties to shareholders, additional legislation giving supporters rights to influence may create tension with these.
Very few respondents provided views on the proposed Supporter Involvement Award or on existing SLOs. Those that did gave general support but suggested the need to publicise and strengthen these initiatives further.
Views of the few who commented were broadly in support of the proposal that a club must declare to the SPFL and Scottish FA and publish the identity of the ultimate beneficial owner of the club. Several respondents welcomed the transparency which they felt this would bring to the club.