A supporter owned Arsenal FC by JC
At a recent speech at MIT Sports Conference in Boston, Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke told the audience:
“For me, being an individual owner, I have to have some sort of reality involved. If you want to win championships then you would never get involved.”
It should serve as a stark reminder for us fans that for Stan Arsenal FC is just another business venture where the bottom line is maximising the return on his investment. Unlike for fans, watching great attacking play, a striker scoring a hatrick or us beating the Spurs doesn’t get Stan excited. What excites Stan is receiving a report that the profit margin has gone up.
Well fellow Gooners, if you’re feeling frustrated like me at seeing the club owned by a very wealthy foreign businessman who sees Arsenal FC as a business opportunity, who rules the club, takes out as much from the profits as he can, while fans are charged the highest ticket prices in the world and ignored… it turns out that it does not have to be like this.
Arsenal FC – owned by and for its fans
A football club is a special type of organisation. It is not simply a business providing a service to consumers. Fans are emotionally connected to the club. The club is its fans. The point is that a football club can be set up in different ways and it does not have to be structured as a profit maximising corporation. There are alternatives and a football club lends itself perfectly to being structured as a non-profit member owned cooperative organisation. That doesn’t mean the club doesn’t make any surpluses. It just means that any surpluses, rather than being paid out to a few external wealthy shareholders in the form of dividends, are instead invested back into the club to help achieve the club’s goal of winning trophies. And it’s the fans who can have influence over what should be prioritised.
The way a supporter owned club works is that any supporter of Arsenal FC can make a payment to become a member. Membership gives them a joint share of the ownership of the club and one vote in decisions. The board of directors would be appointed by members and responsible to members with a clear mandate of fulfilling the club’s sporting goals, not maximising returns.
In fact a lot of other clubs around the world are run this way, including some big name clubs.
In Argentina every football club is owned by its fans.
In Germany a majority control by a single entity (person, or company) is not permitted by the league, and is the German law for clubs.
Shares of Borussia Dortmund are traded on the German stock market and are largely held by fans.
Panathinaikos F.C – Vardinogiannis family agreed in 2012 to transfer its 54.75% stake of the club to the “Panathinaikos Alliance” group. Each member will have one vote in decision-making procedures, regardless of how many shares each individual holds.
FC Barcelona, Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid are fan owned. They aren’t doing too bad for themselves!
Making it happen
If fans had been asked, the club could well have been set up this way in the first place. Considering Arsenal’s estimated fan base globally is 100 million, there is plenty of opportunity to raise the equity needed and provide every fan a chance to be a shared owner of the club.
Currently the club is a private profit-maximising corporation with two owners: Stan Kroenke, who owns 66.64% of shares, and, Alisher Usmanov who owns 30.05% of shares. At 31 March 2012, a single share in Arsenal had a mid price of £16,250, which set the club’s market capitalisation value at approximately £1 Billion.
Could Arsenal FC be converted into a supporter owned club now? Could fans raise enough equity to buy out the current shareholders? iI there enough support for the idea and could fans exert enough pressure to make it happen?
These questions need further exploration, but one thing is for sure that we must never forget – it’s the fans who have the real power. Even the threat of boycotting matches and the possibility of 60,000 empty seats and the resulting losses in revenues would leave the owners trembling. The club is nothing without its fans, and we must not forget that. The club should be controlled by its supporters, for its supporters, with its central mission of being a successful football team, rather than making wealthy foreign businessmen even richer. It’s an idea that I’m sure would resonate with fans the world over. There is an alternative. Let’s make it happen and take back control of our football club.