Since the year 2000 the champions league, Europe’s premier football tournament, has been won by Spanish teams (Barcelona and Real Madrid) nine times, four times by British teams (Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United), three times by Italian teams (Inter Milan and AC Milan), Bayern Munich from Germany twice and Porto from Portugal.
The ownership models are different, as British clubs are bought by the rich from across the world and many British supporters are convinced that the only way to be successful is to have a very rich owner who will provide the funds for success.
Real Madrid’s members have owned and operated the club throughout its history. The club was estimated to be worth €3.8 billion in 2019, and it was the second highest earning football club in the world, with an annual revenue of €757.3 million in 2019.
Barcelona is also owned by its fans, the supporters own and operate Barcelona. It is the fourth-most valuable sports team in the world, worth $4.06 billion, and the world’s richest football club in terms of revenue, with an annual turnover of €840.8 million.
Ownership of British clubs is entirely different with Chelsea owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, Manchester United by the American Glazer family and Liverpool owned by American company the Fenway Sports Group (legally organised as NESV I, LLC), through certain wholly owned subsidiaries, which is managed by John Henry and Tom Werner.
In Italy Juventus is owned by the Agnelli family, Inter Milan by the Suning group and AC Milan by Gordon Singer who bought it off Belusconi. Bayern Munich is owned by the official supporters’ club which owns 81.8 percent of Bayern’s joint stock. Almost all Portuguese First Division clubs are at least 51% owned by associated fans who pay a monthly fee.
In south America, the two major footballing nations are Argentina and Brazil. Whilst since 1993, Brazilian law has allowed sport clubs to be privately owned, most of the professional football clubs in Brazil are owned by their members as not-for-profit organizations. These include the 12 major clubs in the country. All association football clubs in Argentina are owned by their members with every club organised as a not-for-profit organization according to Argentinian law.
Why do we have to be different, having clubs owned by the supporters either wholly or with a majority stake does not make football clubs less successful or unable to pay high transfer fees for players, Real Madrid and Barcelona have paid five of the ten highest transfer fees
When professional football began to emerge at the end of the 19thcentury, the football Association took steps to protect the heritage of clubs. Clubs were allowed to be limited companies but payment to directors was prohibited and dividends restricted.
As a Swansea City fan, I have seen more than my share of owners who did not appear to have the interest of the football club and its fans foremost in their mind. Currently 20% of Swansea city football club is owned by the supporters’ trust, of which I am a member.
Several clubs in the lower divisions of the football league and in the top non-football league divisions are majority fan owned. What we need to hope for, is one of these teams to reach the premier league, because if fan ownership can work in other countries why cannot it work here. We just need a fan owned club to get to the premier division and help change the culture of football club ownership.
The belief that some billionaire will come and invest in the local football club and take the club to the top of the premier league is held by many supporters. If supporter ownership works for many of the biggest European clubs why can’t it work here.
Mike Hedges is the Member of the Senedd for Swansea East.