Fan ownership in football a double-edged sword

A while ago, I decided that instead of waving my arms and legs over the joy of the generous state sponsorships dedicated to our professional football teams, I blissfully declared them as outright toxic.

The problem with that opinion, however, is the European Super League.

Not too long ago, I did a whole segment on how the European Super League would reinforce the nonsensical spending behaviours of football executives from the founding clubs. While that’s patently true and completely acceptable to my friends, it would be deeply offensive to suggest that we should have some sort of state presence within these ‘heritage’ clubs to safeguard the interest of the people.

I normally hate the idea of taxpayers’ money going to professional sports. But if the professional sporting entity is weighed and considered a ‘national treasure’, state intervention must therefore stand, and serve as a bulwark against the main factor that had damned the European Super League – the disgust of the disenfranchised supporters.

Of course, you might imagine at this point that state investment into professional sports would end up becoming what it is currently like in Malaysian football. But it should not.

This is because the role of the state is merely that of a ‘guardian’; there is absolutely no excuse for the state to have a controlling stake. In fact, state equity investment in the professional sporting entity should not be more than 20 per cent.

A controlling stake would lead to political appointments, and the sporting entity would be handicapped from being commercially self-sufficient.

And then in football, you have the cry for fan ownership. Fans should have a bigger voice. That is what we are told “will sort our football”. I have my reservations.

Fans are fragmented and are hardly the most balanced and rational bunch to manage a football club. Some football clubs are littered with hundreds of fan associations, with the majority of them having poor accessibility, governance and hardly capable, or qualified, to be formally recognised as a fan representative.

If ever these football clubs genuinely intend to welcome fan representatives within their board – as observers or voting members – it is important that they first empower them through the establishment of a recognised fan association, formally linked with the football club.

The idea, as of now, of fan ownership, is scattered with questions of feasibility and practicality. What we know since the Super League, is that there is definitely a need for balance.

We need to recognise that the profit motive, within limits, is critical to the innovation upon which the future of football depends. We also need to acknowledge that professional sporting entities are in urgent need of structural reforms and the inclusion of private equity investment is capable of ensuring this.

Granting fans, a voice of some kind – directly or through the state – is sensible in theory, but should be introduced with caution.

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.

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