From everything we have learned working with Portsmouth Football Club, we would have to say an unqualified ‘yes’!
The fan ownership model we helped develop undoubtedly saved the club and it has reinvigorated football in the city, with 15,000 people attending home games (an out-of-this-world figure for league two).
It is an appealing idea for anyone who enjoys football and has a romantic streak, but one has to recognise and work within its limitations to make community ownership a success.
In Portsmouth’s case the club is owned by a combination of the Pompey Supporters Trust and a group of high net worth individuals, although all are Pompey fans making it 100% supporter owned.
Exeter on the other hand is 100% owned by its supporter’s Trust, though as at Pompey, the trust employs a professional Chief Executive Officer to manage the business commercially.
As the Co Op has so painfully discovered, there is a real place for professional management in business.
The higher leagues
Despite financial fair play regulations, the Premier League and Championship demand incredible financial horsepower if you want to succeed.
Swansea FC has done magnificently in the top tier from a position of despair a decade ago, but while fan ownership turned things around, they brought in a wealthy owner to stay on top.
The truth is that the Premier League today is two divisions with the teams in the top 7 or 8 being the only ones likely to have the wherewithal to contest the Champions League spots and probably only 4 or 5 with any real Championship prospects. The remainder, who do not share the same financial muscle, risk becoming one of the yo yo clubs that enjoy successive triumphs and despair.
Maybe things will change in the future, but it is difficult to see how a financially level playing field could truly be introduced at the highest levels of the wealthy English game.
For clubs in financial trouble
The most exciting thing about the Pompey community ownership model is the hope it gives to lower league clubs enduring harsh financial times.
It is not a simple process and certainly challenged our lawyers in various legal fields, from the complexities of ground ownership and employment law to creating a plan that everyone, including creditors and former shareholders, could accept.
As our subsequent work with Aldershot FC demonstrated, the approach can be adapted to the needs of other clubs, bringing with it a new lease of life and new sense of hope and stability.
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