6th September 2022
Following the Fan-led Review into football, the government determined that there was a need to ‘intervene’ to secure the future of the game, accepting or supporting all of the Review’s recommendations. However, with legislation for the new independent regulator and ancillary issues pushed back until 2024 at the earliest, this season’s key governance changes will come from the existing governing bodies (perhaps in part motivated by hoping to showcase that there is no need for an independent regulator).
This article looks at some of the key changes the existing governing bodies have implemented for this season off the back of the Review, as well as what’s on the horizon.
The Review concluded that supporter engagement needs to be improved, and that clubs should be required to engage in greater consultation with their fans.
It was acknowledged that the EFL and Premier League Rules already deal with supporter engagement. For example, Rule R.1 of the Premier League Rules and Rule 20.6 of the EFL Rules require each club to appoint a supporter liaison officer to: (i) deliver the club’s policies regarding its supporters, (ii) ensure there is a regular point of contract within the club for its supporters, and (iii) liaise regularly with the club’s management. Their rules also require regular and structured contact with fans to discuss major issues.
Despite this, the Review concluded that the role of the supporter liaison officer, and what is meant by supporter engagement, meant different things to different clubs. It also found that the existing governing bodies were not rigorously enforcing the rules.
In response to this, the Premier League has created a new rule which requires each of its members to:
Given the clear overlap of the remit of the Board-level individual with the existing rules on supporter liaison officers (which still remain in force), it is not clear how the two are intended to interact. Similarly, it is not clear whether a club’s existing obligations to have regular and structured contact with their fan base is now effectively subsumed by the requirement to engage with its fan advisory group.
Clubs will be looking to the league over the coming months for further guidance/rules on what is required in relation to their fan advisory groups, as well as what the group’s powers and rights are.
As has been well-publicised, the Review recommended that a fan representative body of each club, such as its supporters’ trust, should hold a ‘Golden Share’ on key items of heritage. The intention is to stop any club from selling its stadium, moving outside its local area, joining a new competition (such as the European Super League), leaving a competition or changing its club badge, name or home shirt colours, without the consent of the fan group.
The Review recommended that the shareholder should be a Community Benefit Society (which, broadly speaking, is a society established by its member to serve the interests of the community) which has adopted a standardised set of rules to ensure the highest level of governance. The government supported this, although suggested it may not be suitable for all clubs, particularly smaller clubs given the considerable administrative burden involved (for both the club and the fan representative body).
As an interim solution to heritage concerns, it was recommended that The FA should amend its existing restrictions on heritage to cover all of the above items and to provide guidance on the process for fan groups to seek to protect heritage items.
As was the case prior to the Review, a club cannot not change its name without the approval of the Council of The FA. This will invariably involve consultation with supporters of the relevant club, as was the case when ‘Hull City’ sought to change its name to ‘Hull Tigers’.
Following the Review’s recommendations, the Rules of The FA now prohibit clubs from making any material changes (such as a colour change, adding or deleting text or adding or deleting design features) to their crest or their home shirt colours without a ‘thorough and extensive consultation’ with their supporters. Following such consultation, the club must be able to evidence that the majority of its supporters are in favour of the change. For this purpose, clubs must register their crests and home shirt colours with The FA by 1 October 2022.
The FA is conducting a consultation process regarding the implementation of similar restrictions on heritage issues relating to grounds this season.
It is no secret that there is huge disparity between the money in the Premier League and the rest of the football pyramid, which needs to be addressed, according to the Review and the government.
The Premier League has committed to distributing £1.6 billion to the rest of the football pyramid over the next three years (up by roughly £370 million in comparison to the previous three-year period). After excluding parachute payments paid to teams relegated from the Premier League – an area the Review also considered in need of reform – the figure is roughly £800 million. The EFL wants the Premier League to commit to a further £1 billion of funding.
The football authorities have been given the licence to resolve these distribution issues – including the size of parachute payments – between themselves, and those discussions are currently ongoing. However, it is an issue that has been hard fought for many years between the EFL and the Premier League on just how much support the Premier League should provide to the lower leagues.
Perhaps acting as a catalyst for compromise, the government has indicated that it will give the independent regulator backstop powers in the event that agreement on distributions cannot be reached within football itself. It will be interesting to see whether this ‘risk’ of independent intervention will persuade the football bodies to leave their trenches.
While we don’t yet have the big governance/regulatory changes envisaged by the Review, clubs should continue to engage in these matters where appropriate to assist with the transition to any potentially significant future requirements once legislation is passed.