ENGAGE! – How Clubs Can Win With Football Supporters (Supporters Direct)

New Publication from Supporters Direct

Supporters Direct have recently published a guidance document titled “ENGAGE! – How Clubs Can Win With Football Supporters”. Last week we emailed members with the first of a series of extracts from the Supporters Direct document.

This week, we look at what measures Supporters Direct recommend when establishing a level of supporter involvement:

“SUPPORTER INVOLVEMENT:  WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?

 A variety of supporter involvement forms and mechanisms have developed and, whilst many clubs do engage successfully and regularly with their supporters, other fans have become marginalised because the method of supporter involvement has been wrong.

 Supporter involvement can occur at a number of levels, with each level offering varying amounts of value to the club and community.

 As an example in theory, the optimum solution for ensuring supporters have a direct input into their clubs’ governance is supporter ownership, where supporters have a minimum of 50+1% shareholding in the club. Assuming a suitable model is in place, supporters will then have certain powers to elect representatives and hold them to account, as well as being consulted on issues of significance and if they don’t they can be unseated from the Board or decision making body.

 Each level of supporter involvement has a relevant place and delivers benefit to the club so even without supporter ownership the other levels of involvement can still be delivered by the club. This not only creates a fan base who feel positive about their club, it provides valuable supporter (or dare we say consumer) feedback for the business. 

 With supporter involvement evolving significantly over the past two decades, it is important to identify the different mechanisms of engagement and what is driving them. With increasing numbers of supporter owned clubs, fan representatives and the introduction of roles such as the Supporter Liaison Officer and commitments such as structured dialogue, supporters have never had a better chance to not only raise their voice, but ensure they’re heard on critical issues within the running and ownership of clubs.”

 “GETTING THE FOUNDATIONS RIGHT

 Before we embark on the different forms of involvement, we need to highlight two fundamental areas that regularly surface at every level of the supporter involvement pyramid; consultation and confidentiality.

 Both can be challenging and difficult, but from our experience it is absolutely critical that supporters and clubs embrace the challenge. They have to be brave and try to find solutions rather than use them as a reason not to engage and leave an issue unresolved.

Consultation

 Simply put…  consultation is the level of participation at which people are offered choices on what is to happen.

There is widespread scepticism and lack of clarity over what “consultation” means – for example people may suspect that the decision has already been taken. It is useful to establish the purpose of a consultation by a club, for example is it

  • for information? (the decision won’t be changed by what you say)
  • for comment? (there is a genuine effort to seek and develop ideas)

 Proper consultation takes time and can be a bruising process, however, it can really build strong partnerships and help people understand or even make difficult decisions that need to be made.

 To really build trust, clubs and supporters can work together to decide the areas that are of most importance to them and make a commitment to follow a process. This could be a voluntary agreement such as a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that is in the public domain or could go a step further with a legal agreement5 between the two parties.

 Of course, it is important that good consultation stretches to other stakeholders beyond just supporters, and there are numerous examples where the supporters and the club can work together to improve relations and progress opportunities with these different stakeholder groups. Some of them are listed below:

  • Local residents.
  • Local authority – co-ordinated campaigns to help with planning decisions for facility development and relocation such as at Bristol City.
  • Local police – such as the extensive work between Chester FC, Wrexham AFC and the local police to remove the bubble match status.
  • Local businesses.

Confidentiality

 Confidentiality is a key consideration to be agreed upfront between both parties.

 It is important to remember there is a balance to strike between confidentiality of what may be discussed and the need to communicate that discussion and the information to a wider audience – particularly as there is likely to be public interest and expectation to share. It is surely far better that clubs and supporters can work together to communicate difficult decisions and educate supporters and the wider community on some of the factors that have led to a decision being made.   

Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) – a contract where one or more parties agree not to disclose certain information they have shared – may be an option in particular circumstances such as if a supporters trust is assessing a potential ownership bid. They are unlikely to be suitable for normal ongoing dialogue although some of the principles involved can help both clubs and supporters think about various aspects of their relationship.

For example, confidentiality could be time limited such that a club uses a meeting with supporters as a sounding board for their views in advance of a club announcement, but that information would subsequently be made public.

 Parameters can be defined so that all parties are clear on how various aspects are treated such as the meeting itself, the information shared, the items discussed or the conclusions and opinions of participants.  

You then need to consider how far down the chain this information can be communicated. As a general rule, we would expect supporters groups to be given the ability to discuss a confidential matter as talked about in a structured dialogue meeting with their fellow board members, but no further without prior agreement. 

Reports rather than detailed minutes may help in some situations, alongside summary information if detailed information is deemed too sensitive.

Simple things like having an agenda which is shared well in advance helps all parties prepare documents and information and ensures the right advisors and attendees participate. Both parties can spot potentially sensitive issues that might need a specific approach to confidentiality”

We hope that you found the above to be of interest and gives an insight into what forms the basis of supporter involvement in football clubs. We will feature further extracts from the guidance over future weeks and look forward to receiving any comments you may wish to make on enquiries@bwfcst.co.uk

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