As the General Election campaign and football season both draw to a climax it seems pertinent to look at how the beautiful game might be affected by a change in government.
Of the proposals which could directly influence football, the most significant come from the Labour Party, which has outlined two areas in its manifesto.
The first concerns enabling accredited supporters trusts to appoint and remove at least two of the directors of a football club and to purchase shares when the club changes hands.
The second involves ensuring that the Premier League delivers on its 1999 pledge to invest five per cent of its domestic and international television rights income into funding the grassroots – a move that Labour say would unlock up to £400m of extra funding.
The Liberal Democrats have also expressed an interest in giving football fans “a greater say in how clubs are run by encouraging the reform of football governance rules”.
While the Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos contain no detailed wording of the legislation sought, requiring private companies to cede control of some board positions would be an unprecedented step in both a sporting and business context, as well as having legal hurdles to overcome.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Football Supporters Federation has welcomed such proposals, suggesting that a move would ensure that fans are given a “voice in the boardroom” on decisions relating to “ticket prices, ownership, diversity and safe standing”.
DIFFICULT TO POLICE
Further proposals have also been mooted by Labour that would force new buyers of clubs to offer at least 10 per cent of shares to the fans. There are similar controls in Germany.
However, if this were introduced here, not only would this be difficult to police, it is also likely to be subject to legal challenge on a variety of grounds and may ultimately make English football a less attractive place for investors.
Separately, the Conservatives have stated a commitment to “support new sports in Britain, in particular through greater links with the US National Football League”, introduce more community pitches and continue to support the UK holding major sporting events as a catalyst for economic growth.
SCRUTINY IN THE COURTS
Legislation will be needed to put any of the Labour or Liberal Democrat policies into practice.
While, in theory, increased fan engagement is a good thing for clubs to aim for, from a practical perspective it will be tough to legislate for – especially as the Premier League and the Football Association, as regulators, have their own regimes, which govern who can be involved in running clubs.
It remains to be seen how any changes would be made, since attempts to control how private companies run their businesses, or indeed how much television revenue should be distributed, may end up coming under scrutiny in the courts, ultimately costing fans more through higher ticket prices.
One thing is for certain: supporters have shown their willingness to mobilise, boycott and demonstrate in numbers and club owners know that they face competition on and off the field to keep fans happy.
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