By Barry Worthington
The Conroy Report on our domestic league which was made public earlier this week runs to over seventy pages dealing with pretty much every problem – and indeed also many of the positives – that are to be found in the league.
From the point of view of a member of a supporters’ trust, there were a few issues of note worth looking at.
Sustainability of clubs is something that matters to everyone involved with the League, from players to fans, FAI officials to referees and even beyond to local communities and businesses. The Report gives a figure of roughly €13M as the combined revenue of all twenty league clubs in 2014. That’s a pretty miserable average of just €650,000 per club with the figure reported for our own club at slightly under €300,000. (The twelve top flight clubs in Denmark, a similar sized country to Ireland, have a combine annual income of just over €300M).
With income levels that low, the report touches on the lack of full-time paid administrators around the league (less than one per club on average) and how that slack is being picked up by volunteers. While this will be of no surprise to anyone attending league matches on any sort of a regular basis, it presses the issue with regard to expertise (or rather the lack of it) that therefore is to be found within clubs.
The 1895 Trust’s position on the future of Shelbourne FC’s ownership structure would hope to meet the challenge of this issue head on. The Trust’s proposal to have our club co-operatively owned with a low cost membership entry fee would allow the greatest number of our supporters, and therefore their wide ranging expertise, to be utilised to the maximum benefit of the club and it would also give way to the possibility of extending the size of the fanbase by allowing newer/less regular attendees at matches to become involved as opposed to other forms of ownership/membership which may be viewed as more “closed shop” as it were.
This form of fan ownership, combined with a restriction on serving terms at board level, would also help to avoid the “fatigue” issue mentioned in the report with too few volunteers carrying out too many tasks for too long a period of time.
A further benefit one could expect from this form of ownership would help deal with another issue mentioned in the report – season ticket sales. The benefits of higher season ticket sales mentioned in the report are guaranteed up front income and locked-in loyalty – and an obvious one not mentioned: a likely higher increase of spending within the stadium by a season ticket holder over a fan who has just paid €15 at the gate. There is no doubt that a club with a wider numbers of co-owners would see an increase in season ticket sales due to a closer connection to the club as a participant within its’ ownership structure.
The report also looks positively at many of the points raised by the “Heart of the Game” handbook of the Irish Supporters Network. Every football club if it is to thrive needs to place itself at the centre of its’ local community and there are many recommendations listed for clubs to take on. This is something The 1895 Trust sees as crucial to the future of Shelbourne Football Club, something on which the club has had mixed results with since returning to Tolka Park in 1989, and a key area of the club’s future growth strategy that must be addressed especially with an expect move to a new location in the short-term.
Finally, the report also mentions fans and volunteerism. While it might go without saying, it’s right that the loyalty of fans and the dedication of many who give their time freely to help their clubs should be documented. The report gives a figure of 25,000 hours volunteered just towards the running of matchdays. This type of commitment by fans can’t but give a further voice to the argument for fan ownership.