Football and sustainability, the English answer to Arab money

Three innovations will change football in the coming years

England will exponentially increase controls on football. Among the points of the White Paper approved by the Sunak government, there is the creation of a independent bodysimilar to an authority, to oversee the accounts and management of the clubs.

This, explains the Annunziata&Conso study taken up by, is the main of three innovations that will change football in the coming years. The other two concern the involvement of fans in club management and EU fight against money laundering in football.

The British White Paper for controlling football

In addition to the creation of an independent body to control the clubs, there are many points on which the British government has decided to intervene:

• Prevent English clubs from participating in breakaway competitions, such as the Super League;

• Prevent the recurrence of financial failures, protecting clubs and fans;

• Introduce strict financial controls for club owners and directors;

• Give supporters greater representation by allowing them to influence decisions such as changing the team’s name, crest and colours;

• Regulatory and balance the distribution of money in the English football pyramidstepping in as needed to ensure fair financial deals between the minor leagues and major leagues

The novelties were announced at the beginning of the year, but they are starting to take concrete shape in recent months. “The Premier League and its clubs will now carefully consider the government’s plan for England to become the first major nation to make football a government-regulated industry,” was the official comment from the main English football federation.

On the other hand, the file on Manchester City for alleged financial fraud is still open and there are many points to clarify.

With the new rules, a corporate governance code will be applied and tests will be carried out to verify the suitability and correctness of the management of the owners and managers. In the event of inconsistencies, the regulatory body will intervene and may even impose sanctions.

The clubs did not react positively: West Ham co-owner David Sullivan said: “A calcium regulator is a very bad idea. The government is bad at managing everything, look what a mess the country is in”. For Sullivan it is a reform that will weigh down the coffers of the clubs: “An independent body will have a huge staff that football will have to pay. It will be a total waste of money”. He is echoed by Aston Villa chief executive Christian Purslow, according to whom excessive regulation risks “kill the goose that lays the golden egg” with reference to the vast induced by the Premier.

The Sunak government wants to give more weight to the fans

The White Paper also wants to give a more important role to fan representatives. It is even expected that supporters will be facilitated in meetings with top management to discuss various matters, including patrimonial ones, and they will have right of veto on corporate historical elementssuch as crest and shirt color.

The contact gap between clubs and fans has been partially filled by platforms such as which allows fans to purchase gods fan tokens and feel part of the team. The virtual tokens, which can only be purchased with cryptocurrencies, give various advantages, but of little weight, such as the possibility of choosing the songs to be played in the stadium during the warm-up, choosing the name of the training camp or booking a seat for a dinner with the team .

The intention of the Sunak government is to open a more important channel of involvement that creates a bridge not only with the protagonists of the field, but also with the club governance.

How share ownership works in football

Widespread or popular shareholding is a special, in a certain sense romantic, form of governance. Practically club shares become the property of the fans who, owning even just one share, enjoy all the rights and duties due to shareholders by law. In exchange for the capital, the fans can enjoy benefits of various kinds. Fans obtain commercial advantages such as discounts on the purchase of tickets and season tickets, on official merchandising, dedicated promotions from partners and sponsors, invitations to ad-hoc organized private events, use of exclusive content, but also commemorative and personalized gadgets.

The quintessential example of this model is the Barcelona. All the shares of the Blaugrana club are held by the multi-sports association of the same name, of which fans can become members but not owners. Popular ownership is also widespread in other Spanish clubs such as Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, Osasuna and Real Murcia.

In the Spanish model, the maximum expression of the decision-making powers due to the members of the Club consists in the right to vote for the election of the president of the team.

This tool is very popular in Germany, where the “50%+1 law” prevents a single shareholder from owning more than 50% of a club in the Bundesliga, the top German league. This has led to a widespread distribution of shareholders in many clubs. A notable example is Bayern Munich, owned by Audi, Adidas, Allianz and its own supporters, who own 73% of the club. Hamburg’s second team has also embraced popular ownership, with 15,000 members running the club.

Shareholder ownership in Italian football

And in Italy? Widespread shareholding is almost irrelevant in Italian football, but there is no shortage of virtuous examples. The forerunner of popular shareholding in Serie A was the Trust “My Rome” who, active since 2010, managed to buy a share of the company’s shares, acquiring more and more credibility. In Turin the association ToroMio, association of Torino supporters, wants to promote dialogue between the club and all the protagonists of the environment. After years of mutual support, in 2018 MyRoma, ToroMio e Apa Milan (Association of AC Milan’s small shareholders) have decided to team up by founding the committee “In the Origins of the Future”, which today includes fan associations from Parma, Modena and Rimini, Cosenza, Sassari Torres and Acireale, Arezzo.

The committee’s mission is to promote a bill that legally defines both the investee sports club (“the container”) and the fan participation body, baptized by them the “Sports Community”. In general, despite the efforts of these bodies, in Italy the role of fans in the governance of professional football clubs has not yet been recognized.

The best known attempt was to Interspacebut the initiative, personally promoted by the economist Carlo Cottarelli, did not meet with the favorable opinion of the Suning group, owner of Inter.

Italian politics has also looked at this issue, presenting a
bill in March 2023
. The goal is to encourage widespread shareholding in professional and amateur sports clubs, also to give supporters a role in club management.

The bill presents some rules such as the fact that each shareholder, regardless of participation in the company, is entitled to only one vote within the popularly owned sports body, in addition to the obligation to use profits or operating surpluses for the construction of institutional activities and the ban on distributing the same profits in favor of shareholders or members of the Board of Directors.

Popular shareholders propose themselves as alternative governance model and for several reasons sustainable: creates a bridge between the club and the fans, a true pillar of football and allows the club not to depend on the choices and finances of a single owner.

The fight against money laundering in football

The third and final revolution in Western football could derive from the decision of the European Parliament to include professional football clubs among the subjects obliged to the new anti-money laundering regulation. This choice was motivated by the perception of football as a potential breeding ground for money laundering, as underlined by the Gafi (the intergovernmental organization that fights against money laundering) in 2009 and by the European Commission in 2019. Finally, in 2021 also Europol (the European Union Agency for Police Cooperation) has reported that professional sport, and in particular professional football, is exposed to the risk of money laundering.

Bottom line, while Arab money tries to take over world football, Western football responds with regulation. These three themes – the role of the independent regulator in England, fan engagement in Italy and the fight against money laundering at European level – will have a significant impact on the governance of football clubs in the coming years.