After eight years under Lerner’s ownership Aston Villa is now up for sale and with many rumours circulating the press about the identity of the next owner, MOMS will look at whether fan ownership is a viable option.With those rumoured to be interested in buying Villa ranging from  American billionaires Larry Ellison and Micky Arison, to Kazhak-born businessman Tevfik Ariv seeming to be nothing more than newspaper talk, should we be looking closer to home for ownership and let Villa supporters through the Aston Villa Supporters’ Trust (AVST) have a stake in the club?

Examples of Supporter Ownership

There are currently 38 supporter owned clubs in England: 17 are fully owned by supporters including Wrexham AFC and Wycombe Wanderers FC, five are majority owned by supporters, including AFC Wimbledon and Portsmouth CFC and 16 are partly owned including Swansea City FC in the Premier League.(1)

The benefits of fan ownership are clear. With a shareholding in the club, supporters can work towards protecting the interests of the club and the community leading to greater financial stability. Furthermore, proposals from other shareholders to benefit the club in the short-term (normally of a commercial nature) can be rejected in favour of ensuring the club’s key community assets such as the crest, kit colours and home ground ownership are safeguarded.

In the Premier League the model example is Swansea City, whose supporters trust, The Swansea City Supporters Society Limited (the “SC” Trust), is the third largest shareholder at the club with a shareholding of 19.9%. The SC Trust has a significant role in the club’s decision-making process through the presence of an elected supporter director. The shareholders’ agreement entered into by the shareholders of the club states that the supporter director cannot be removed irrespective of the dilution of the shares of the SC Trust.(2)

The Swansea model has clearly not hindered their progress with the club winning the League Cup in February 2013 and reaching the last 16 of the Europa League this season in addition to securing Premier League status for next season.

Villa Supporters Previous Shareholding

For Villa a shareholding for the AVST would be welcomed once again by supporters especially given prior to Lerner’s tenure, the Villa Shareholders Association and Villa Fans Combined did have a shareholding in the club. Those shares though had to be sold to Lerner, as part of his takeover.

More than ideology

The case for encouraging greater levels of collective supporter share ownership has strengthened in recent years with the rise of  Supporters Direct at the forefront of the Supporters Trust movement. Furthermore, earlier this year The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Mutuals released a report urging the Government to take action to improve the way football club owners behave towards supporter groups in an attempt to protect their interests. The report criticised the neutral attitudes of the Football Association, Premier League and Football League taken towards issues of ownership.(3)

The prospect of fan ownership in England has acted as a first resort for supporters to bring about a brighter future for their club following times of adversity. In recent years there is growing support for supporter ownership with 56% of fans who participated in a survey on fan ownership conducted by YouGov for Co-Operatives UK believing their club would be in better hands if it was owned co-operatively.(4)

The European Example

For the situation to improve the Premier League may need look at different approaches to fan-ownership and our European counterparts demonstrate a perfect example of how the structure of supporter-owned clubs can operate. In Sweden and Turkey, all clubs must be fan-owned and a similar approach is adopted in Germany with the “50+1” rule requiring the association or club to have a controlling stake of at least 50% + 1 share. There are two exceptions to this with Wolfsburg being owned by Wolkswagen and Bayer Leverkusen owned by the chemical company, Bayer – both clubs originated as works sporting clubs.

In Spain, F.C. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Osasuna and Athletico Bilbao are all socio-owned with presidents elected by the club’s members. UEFA President Michel Platini believes ‘Members’ societies controlled by socios, who have their own ground, who invest in the youth system and who maintain their own identity, [are the ideal].

The culture of one league is different to another throughout Europe, but in England there is a desire for instant success initiated by new owners believing they can bring about instant change thus instilling belief in the supporters. When such promises cannot be kept, however, the books have to be balanced and expectations are soon dampened with the supporters once again suffering.

When Lerner arrived at Villa, he was full of enthusiasm and belief we could reach the Champions League, investing over £200m in the club. After a transitional season, three 6th places followed but that would be the closest we would get to qualifying for Europe’s top competition with relegation a much greater possibility in recent seasons.

For now Lerner will be trusted to find the right buyer for the club, but should the Villa sale saga continue to run deep into the summer expect the prospect of fan ownership to be explored further.

 

Notes

1. http://www.supporters-direct.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Supporter_Share_Ownership.pdf

4. http://www.uk.coop/pressrelease/fans-want-take-over-premier-league-club-owners-reveals-new-survey

 

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12 COMMENTS

  1. I agree that attracting investment was difficult last time round , but what is meant by attracting investment . Many it would seem to think means pouring money into the club ,and yes the club does need lots of dosh if we really are to be the top club we want it to be . But what we really need is investment income something only ManU to date have really exploited , but is the real way forward as it does not rely on the owners putting money in . Yet if the investments are managed correctly can provide a club with the funds it requires .
    So what the club really needs is an owner who can grow the clubs investments rather than keep on looking for an owner who will empty their piggy bank for the club . And that was what Lerner was apparently attempting to do when he took over from Doug . How far that project has gone is difficult to tell with all the clamor about what has been going on with the playing side of things. Whether such an owner can be found remains to be seen but I hear Doug is now supporting Randy in his quest to find a new owner
    As for fan ownership that would only work if the group had strong leadership as otherwise it would be fated by everybody, somebody & nobody not working to take the club forward

  2. Fan Ownership is an excellent idea. I doubt many “fans” could really stomach it though. How many would be willing to purchase a 0 coupon 5-10yr bond at 1000£? Then see the club steeped in debt based on those assets mentioned to sell (?) in another thread? Lambert would have to stay until at least his contract ended. Possibly cashing in on Vlaar and CB20 to service the debt if we didn’t stay in the prem?

    The Glazers showed its possible to takeover a club based on debt, different situation but a loose model. If the financing could be found, based on a supported generated fund and the current assets, why not?

    Or we coud get a arms dealing property developer (Health Spa anyone?) who pumps 200m in and who might change the colours to blue n white and the name to the sharks. I know my preference.

    • A takeover as done by the Glazers would not work @ Villa as the clubs income is not good enough . The Glazers are also the reason for the recent fal from grace of ManU as the Glazers personal debts have dragged down ManU’s ability to spend as big as they once did .
      As for fans shares in the club perhaps some non-voting shares might be an idea , But with many fans expecting shareholders to finance the buying of expensive players out of their own pockets rather than funds generated by the club I can’t see it working , as the mythical “we” factor would come into play with lesser share holders saying we want but “we” can’t pay & demanding the bigger share holders spend their money as I beleive was in part why the club struggled durring the DD years

      • I never mentioned an equity share stake, merely a debt placement for fans to purchase.
        Glazer reference was only to show possibilities and to learn from their mistakes, not as a step by step.

        The whole basis of a fan generated fund is to exclude the voices of those who want without paying.

        • Hmm so your suggesting that fans should be able to buy share so that we can go back to how it was before Lerner took over & the porky pigs with shares dictated how the club was run or not run as the case might be ?
          As for learning from the Glazers & ManU what is to learn, other than that we don’t want owners who will saddle the club with more debt than it already has !

  3. Villa will be sold at some point. However no offers on the table so far, and fans should wonder why.

    Hoping for Christmas and santa claus is not sensible. The price is too high given the amount of investment needed in team and stadium. No one is going to give any shares to fans when they will want to take total control of what they spend.

    Flying pigs will be seen over villa park before this happens. What is the point of continuing with this futile discussion?

    Trevor Fisher

  4. I have been a fan of Aston Villa for over 50 years.I now live in Toronto and follow Villa avidly if somewhat painfully for the last few years.I would be very interested in helping AVFC in any way possible.Can someone come up with a plan that makes sense? JAF.

  5. I like the concept. Hopefully the new owner will gift some shares to a supporters trust as a good will gesture. Hopefully we’ll get someone who’s rich and ambitious as well!

  6. Why would any Villa fans put money into a share of the club after what happened last time it was floated with Doug, only to lose money when Learner bought it at a knock-down price, compared to the original float price. If Learner had any decency he would offer the club back to the fans at the same price per share for which he bought it. OK he would take a loss and that is down to his poor management. But as I already wrote, once bitten twice shy. Realistically fan ownership is not going to happen at villa and the sooner a good entrepreneur with the nous to manage a commercial organisation and provide the platform for the team to develop is identified the better. It might take a while.

    • Ah yes the voice of a disgruntled former shareholder but apart from the free nosh up @ shareholders meetings what did they lose when they had their share bought ?
      As for selling the club @ the price Lerner paid for it would you be happy perhaps if he sold Bodymoor separately as surely the money invested in developing the facilities there will have vastly increased the value of the site both to the club , or as a possible health & fitness club ?

  7. Its a price of £150 million quid. Totally unrealistic as Colin Gale points out. Then there is the cost of the new players, most people reckon we need 5 at £20million, and the wages on top. If they came to so uncertain a future.

    Please don’t waste our time. The best way forward would be to put down some markers for the new owner(s) so they might listen to us. No change of the Villa name for example.

    But please don’t damage our credibility, limited though it is, by imagining we can fork out £250m. Of course, if the AVST has that kind of money lets talk abut it, but the last time I looked at their finances they had something like 0.1% of that figure.

    Trevor Fisher

  8. And all fans will be equal like Orwell’s Porky pigs will they .
    And how will the fat cat’s who are supposed to fork out their cheque books every time new player’s want buying feel
    Or would such an idea doom Villa to the history books /
    Sorry but with the unrealistic expectations of some Villa fans I can see only failure especially when the majority turn on the select few who will reap the benefits of the directors box yet contribute little to the future of the club

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