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Football Governance Bill must “strengthen fan voice” MPs hear

The Football Governance Bill was back in Parliament today and MPs heard how supporter engagement must be strengthened to include critical matchday issues.

Now at the committee stage, MPs are examining the Football Governance Bill and today expert witnesses and industry figures, including FSA chief executive Kevin Miles, answered key questions on the legislation.

Supporter engagement

Miles told MPs that the Bill’s requirements for clubs to engage with their supporters in structured dialogue should be strengthened.

“It’s important that the fan engagement process – overseen by the regulator – is not used as a means by clubs to sideline supporters’ trusts,” Miles told the committee.

Miles pointed to the many recent cases of Premier League clubs introducing wide-ranging ticket prices increases after little or no dialogue with supporters.

These cases demonstrated, he told MPs, that critical matchday issues should be included in supporter engagement.

Ian Byrne, MP for West Derby, asked Kevin whether or not other matchgoing issues – such as kick-off times and the impact broadcasters have on fans – should be within the remit of the future independent football regulator.

“We don’t want a shopping list or veto over everything,” Miles said. “But we think the fan engagement needs to be robust and the expectation is that the fan voice is listened to and given due consideration.

“That needs to be underpinned by licensing conditions.”

Finance

Football finance expert Kieran Maguire and forensic accounting specialist Dr Christina Philippou from Portsmouth University were also before the committee this morning – answering MPs’ questions on the need for independent regulation.

Maguire said there has been a “collective inability to control costs” in the Premier League and EFL as wages and transfers run away – citing a +4,000% increase in player wages.

“A regulator that can do real-time financial monitoring could prevent a long term financial crisis and be beneficial to clubs, helping them identify problems early,” he said.

“The regulator can’t convert us into a zero crisis environment but it can turn the dial down.

“The problem is any business relying on ownership funding you have to carefully monitor that funding on a medium-to-long term basis.”

Dr Phillpou told MPs that standards of corporate governance in football had to improve if it had any chance of getting the game’s stratospheric costs under control.

“Over half the clubs in the top five leagues are technically insolvent [due to the level of losses],” said Dr Philippou. “This is a reality unique to football.

“Ultimately what we have is poor cost control, poor monitoring. It’s a lack of willingness to do something about it. We’re still seeing these problems with new financial measures in place.”

Sports Minister Stuart Andrew asked the two experts if the Bill represented “over-regulation” and if the licensing conditions of the new regulator would be burdensome to clubs – something both rejected.

“It’s light touch,” Dr Phillpou said. “If you are running the club properly it shouldn’t add much burden.”

Maguire added that football’s regime of self-regulation had failed to address its systemic issues around finance and cost control.

“Self regulation walks hand-in-hand with self interest,” he told MPs. “The football authorities don’t have the powers to do an Ofsted, this is where a regulator would be broadly beneficial.

“The stick and the carrot of licensing I think would focus some minds where historically owners have taken no advice.”

League bosses: Deadlock persists

Bosses from the three big league organisers in England and Wales – EFL chair Rick Parry, the Premier League chief executive and general manager of the National League Mark Ives – were also in front of the committee discussing the state of the game’s governance.

The Premier League and EFL remain some distance apart on parachute payments and the distribution of broadcast revenue through the pyramid, as well as the need for independent regulation.

“We’re happy to throw our support behind the regulator,” Parry told MPs.

Parry said a national independent regulator would improve standards and “transparency and consistency” across the leagues.

“Football doesn’t do transparency well. Football likes to live in the dark. In a better regulated environment we believe we would get better quality of owners. What we’re trying to do is reduce dependence on owner funding.

“It’ll be a tougher environment, but we need a tougher environment. We’ve had thirty years to get this right and failed.”

The Premier League chief executive argued that the bill contains “regulatory interventions that aren’t necessary”.

“We shouldn’t have broad protective measures there to stop anyone ever hurting themselves,” he said.

“The League does have sustainability rules in place – what we’re seeing in the bill are prevential regulations.”

The CEO likened the new regulator to the financial industry which, he argues, didn’t fit football’s unique landscape. He added that independent regulation could “stop investment into football squads and slow down the growth” of the game.

What does the FSA think?

As Parry said in the session, it’s clear football’s long-standing regime of self-regulation is failing and is not fit to address the challenges of the modern game or protect the heritage of our clubs.

And like our chief executive Kevin Miles told MPs today: “It’s not perfect, but if this bill goes through it’s a huge step forward for football. This bill provides a regulatory function that has been sadly lacking.

“We have sadly concluded football has failed to regulate itself and we support the creation of an independent regulator.”

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