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A little understanding goes a long way

At the FSA we’re keen to promote the best practice when it comes to clubs talking to their supporters, as the benefits of engaging with fans are obvious – at least to us. One tool that’s become increasingly common in formalising those discussions is the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

What is an MOU? It’s a document signed by two (or more) parties, and for fan groups its main aim is to help formalise the relationship between them and their club, providing a framework for their discussions.

It typically sets out key terms of reference for how the club will engage with its supporters on a formal basis, and is a tool that has been used by many supporter groups since 2017, on the back of government recommendations for football clubs to improve dialogue with their supporters.

MOUs are often signed when there is already a good working relationship in place between both parties, and are a more formal step that solidifies the relationship between fan group and club. That’s not to say that clubs are resistant to them, however, as in the best examples they benefit both sides.

Robin Sainty, from the Canaries Trust, who signed their agreement with the club back in 2018, said: “We’d been looking into it when one day I had a call from the chief executive saying he was going to be in my neighbourhood and did I fancy a coffee and catch up as we hadn’t spoken for some time.

“We discussed various issues and I raised the MOU whereupon he said ‘Actually, that’s something I was going to suggest’

“It was very easy to agree terms and it was all signed and sealed within a few weeks.

“Since then it has worked perfectly with the club giving us advance warning of big announcements and trusting us with some pretty sensitive info. We also meet them quarterly, but have much more regular phone and email dealings with the executive committee.”

Having formal structured dialogue between supporters and clubs can be critical in allowing challenging issues to be met head on, rather than avoided or advanced without proper consultation. That can help to build trust between a club and supporters, and to set the tone for a club’s engagement with their fans.

Elliot Stanley from the Nottingham Forest Supporters’ Trust said: “We took some learning from the work Tom Greatrex, the FSA’s vice chair, and the Fulham Supporters’ Trust had done and basically took an MOU template to one of our meetings with the chairman.

“I was quite surprised when they came back quite quickly and said ‘happy to go for it’ as I expected it to take some back and forth.

“Despite not being a legally binding document, it formally underpins the club’s commitment to talk to us and effectively puts on record the fact that they trust us, they value us and they want to work with us.

“I can categorically say that this also reflects in the engagement we have. More recently I’ve noticed that there is much more of a ‘pull’ in terms of asking our opinion – given recent events they are obviously desperate to understand how fans will react to certain things like ticket refunds.

“There is a definite and genuine interest in what we think and the info we are able to gather from the wider fanbase and present to them.”

Clubs that have signed MOUs with their fans range in size, from Premier League Norwich City and Reading in the Championship, to Accrington Stanley and Rochdale in League One and Grimsby Town in League Two.

  • If you’d like to hear more about MOUs and how we can help you in improving dialogue with your club, get in touch with us.

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