LONDON, Oct 17 (Reuters) - New buyers of English and Welsh soccer clubs may be forced to sell up to 10 percent of their stakes to fans of the club under plans put forward on Friday by Britain’s opposition Labour party to shake up club ownership and governance rules.
Britain’s top tier soccer league generates more money than any other domestic European soccer competition, attracting wealthy foreign investors and top players. But its popularity has also fuelled above-inflation rises in ticket prices which have priced some fans out of attending matches.
If Labour, who currently have a narrow lead in opinion polls, win power at a May 2015 election they would also force all clubs to allow supporters’ organisations to appoint at least two members of a club’s board of directors.
Labour says the reforms are designed to give fans a greater say in the running of their club, tapping into disillusionment about the rising cost of match tickets and merchandise and the increase in foreign ownership.
“We have reached a tipping point in the way football is run,” said lawmaker Clive Efford, the party’s sports spokesman.
“Too often fans are treated like an afterthought as ticket prices are hiked up, grounds relocated and clubs burdened with debt or the threat of bankruptcy.”
A Deloitte survey in June showed the top 20 English clubs in 2013-14 attracted revenues of 3.2 billion pounds ($5.1 billion).
Under the proposed reforms, any buyer purchasing a stake in a soccer club would have to offer 10 percent of the shares they have bought to a democratically run supporters’ trust representing the club’s fans at cost price.
Supporters trusts would have the power to appoint up to 25 percent of a club’s directors, but they would not be able to block takeovers or change corporate strategy, Labour said.
Labour’s plans are a step in the direction of German soccer, which is held up as a model of financial responsibility by many European fans. Clubs in Germany are majority-owned by members but remain highly competitive in Europe while keeping their ticket prices lower than in England.
Such reforms could dull the investment appeal of clubs and bring potentially disruptive voices into the boardroom.
But the proposals were welcomed by Supporters Direct, a body representing over 200 fans’ trusts, which campaigns to give fans a greater say in club governance. ($1 = 0.6229 British pound) (Reporting by William James; Editing by Hugh Lawson)