Press release

More Opportunities for Supporter Ownership, Involvement and Engagement in Football

Sports Minister Tracey Crouch announces new measures to give fans a greater voice in football.

Sports Minister Tracey Crouch

Sports Minister Tracey Crouch

  • New opportunities for supporters to bid to own their football clubs in an insolvency situation            
  • Leagues endorse the introduction of regular structured engagement between clubs and supporters  
  • Clubs to meet with a representative group of supporters at least twice a year.  
  • Additional £1 million funding proposed from Premier League for supporter groups on ownership and related issues and access to emergency funding to help supporters fund bid costs when formulating an ownership bid

Following the publication of the final report of the Government Expert Working Group on Supporter Ownership and Engagement, supporters of professional clubs across the country will have more opportunities to bid to own their football clubs when suitable opportunities arise, and will also meet with their clubs at least twice a year to discuss issues important to them, Sports Minister Tracey Crouch announced today.

The Premier League, The Football League, National League and FA boards have endorsed the report alongside Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters Federation.

Additionally, the revised Insolvency Policy announced by The Football League in June has helped the Expert Working Group to achieve a number of its objectives on removing barriers to supporter ownership.

Sports Minister Tracey Crouch said:

Supporters are the lifeblood of the clubs they support but over time there has been a growing disconnect between them and those that run their clubs. So it was right that government set up this group and brought the football authorities and supporters together to see what more can be done for clubs to engage with fans.

The agreement to have meaningful dialogue between clubs and supporters on issues that matter to them, which can include strategic and ownership related issues, is a big step forward. I thank all those involved for their hard work on this report and the progress that has been made. It shows what can be achieved with the football authorities and supporters working together in partnership.

The Expert Working group, set up by the Government in October 2014, has recommended that:

  • In the event of a club becoming insolvent, administrators would be required to meet with Supporters Trusts, with a credible Trust given an opportunity to bid for the club  
  • In such a situation, the Premier League’s Fans Fund Panel would consider bids for assistance from Supporters Trusts of clubs in the National League, Football League and Premier League to help with professional fees to build a credible bid  
  • The Premier League has also agreed to provide an extra £1 million in funding over the next three years, via the Fans Fund, to recognise football supporter organisations that provide a voice for supporters on ownership and related issues   * Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters Federation to develop a database of suitable professional experts who are football fans who would be willing to provide pro-bono advice to supporters’ bids  
  • The football authorities agreed to keep the Owners and Directors Test under constant review and will take into account any feedback received from the supporter organisations through structured dialogue to ensure it achieves its intended purpose at all times.  
  • Government should look at Social Investment Tax Relief with regards to Supporters Trusts and if this would provide a tax-efficient way for them to accrue funds to prepare for a future bid

  • Government and the football authorities should consider if a Community Owned Sports Club model, similar to the Community Amateur Sport Club (CASC) scheme, should be accepted as a legitimate operating model giving supporter owned clubs tax breaks

  • Any planned substantial changes to club colours or crests to be discussed with fans as part of the structured engagement.

  • The FA to assess how to best engage with representative supporter groups within its decision making structures as part of its current review process

Independent chair of the Expert Working Group Joanna Manning-Cooper said:

This is football’s report - compiled by football supporters and by the football authorities. We were determined to produce a report with clear recommendations and negotiated agreements rather than another ‘wish list’ with no outcomes or solutions. 

We believe this report offers positive benefits for the game. It will encourage supporter ownership where it is a credible and sensible solution for a football club and it will lead to new and improved levels of meaningful engagement and dialogue between clubs and fans, ensuring that the issues which matter to both can be addressed

Supporters Direct Chairman Brian Burgess said:

This report has the potential to mark the start of a new era of structured meaningful dialogue between clubs and Trusts, supported by changes which will lead to more opportunities for supporter ownership. Implemented correctly it can be a welcome step forward in a long-term process of reform, helping to reconnect clubs with their communities.

Kevin Miles, chief executive of the Football Supporters Federation, said:

A report, endorsed by the football authorities, that requires clubs to listen to supporters on strategic issues including finance, governance and ownership, has to be a step in the right direction. 

All too often, crucial club decisions have been taken over the heads of fans, with the real financial and strategic position of clubs shrouded in mystery. 

We welcome the recommendations in this report that supporters’ representatives should be entitled to regular structured engagement with clubs, and that supporter representation within the FA should be strengthened. 

Fans aren’t only concerned with facilities and team performance; we also care deeply about the ownership, governance and strategic direction of the clubs we support.

FA chief executive Martin Glenn said:

The expert working group has been a really positive way for football to work with supporter groups to develop practical ways to improve supporter engagement and provide assistance for supporter trusts considering bidding for their club. Working with the Football Supporters Federation and Supporters Direct, we have created solutions that the supporter groups wanted and that can be implemented.

Football has changed significantly in recent years with the introduction of financial regulations and sustainability criteria which have helped ensure that clubs at all levels are run more sustainably than ever and are protected for their fans and communities. Likewise, the Clubs have worked hard in creating new engagement programmes with their supporters. It’s great to see that these achievements will be built on thanks to group’s work.

Premier League Executive Chairman, Richard Scudamore, said:

A constructive working relationship with fans is hugely important to us and our clubs.  The enduring success of the Premier League and the rest of the professional game is sustained by supporters, particularly those who attend matches.

The group has done good work in creating structures for productive dialogue. This type of consultation has already helped progress issues important to fans such as amending Company Law to remove unintended barriers to fan ownership or investment in clubs, improving the Owners’ and Directors’ Test and the introduction of Supporter Liaison Officers.

We will build on this good work because ongoing consultation is necessary to understand what matters to fans.‎

The Football League’s Chief Executive, Shaun Harvey said:

The Government Expert Working Group’s report delivers a number of sensible and practical measures with regard to supporter ownership and engagement.

Democratically supporter owned clubs are now an important part of the make-up of professional football with five currently operating in The Football League.  Given that supporter ownership can be the salvation of clubs in financial distress, it is sensible that the football authorities and the Government seek to remove any unnecessary regulatory and legal barriers to such ownership, although we must always be mindful in doing so that we do not undermine the integrity of league competition or an Administrator’s responsibility to secure the best return for an insolvent club’s creditors. 

The Football League’s review of its Insolvency Policy, as outlined to the Group at one of its early meetings and voted through by clubs in June 2015, helped deliver a number of tangible changes to the approach that was ultimately taken, which included supporting the continued use of the Football Creditors’ Rule.

The report also sets new parameters for engagement between clubs and fans.  The overwhelming majority of Football League clubs already recognise the value of regular, constructive dialogue with their supporters and it will help shape their work in this important area.

Notes to Editors:

For further information please contact: José Riera at Department for Culture, Media and Sport on 020 7211 6971 / 07825 057405

The report follows ten meetings of the Expert Working Group over the course of twelve months. The full report can be found here

The group was independently chaired by Joanna Manning-Cooper, who was Director of Marketing and Communications for England Rugby 2015, organisers of the Rugby World Cup. She is a Portsmouth FC Season Ticket Holder, member of Portsmouth Supporters Trust and a community shareholder in Portsmouth FC.

The Expert Working Group member organisations are:

  • Supporters Direct

  • Football Supporters Federation

  • The Football Association

  • The Premier League

  • The Football League

  • DCMS

  • Portsmouth Supporters Trust (Expert Witness member of Group)

  • Swansea Supporters Trust (Expert Witness member of Group)

  • Wrexham Supporters Trust (Expert Witness member of Group)

  • AFC Wimbledon Supporters Trust (Expert Witness member of Group)

Additional expert witnesses attended meetings and their presence is recorded as an annex in the final report.

Published 19 January 2016