Good governance should bring cash rewards, insists football clubs’ body

Football clubs should be financially rewarded if they show good governance and engage properly with their fans, according to a group of clubs championing greater sustainability within the game.

A new ‘sustainability index’ created by Fair Game, which counts 34 EFL and non-league clubs among its members, paints a troubling picture of the state of England’s top two divisions. The index combines scores awarded on financial stability, good governance, fan engagement and equality standards. Weeks before the expected publication of government plans for an independent regulator, only two Championship clubs and half of the Premier League are given a score ranked ‘good’.

Fair Game proposes to publish the index, the first version of which is the result of 18 months’ work, every year and its CEO, Niall Couper, believes its calculations should be included in any potential settlement reached by a new regulator.

“We believe that things like financial sustainability, good governance, equality standards and fan engagement – all elements within the fan-led review – are what should really be held in the highest regard in football, and it shouldn’t just be about the results on the pitch,” Couper said. “They are the route to long-term sustainability.

“Ultimately we want to be developing a system that starts rewarding football clubs for good behaviour financially. When you look at the best regulators in the country they are the ones that incentivise good behaviour and that means rewarding. We have got huge revenues coming into the game and what we should start to look at is a way of distributing funds to those clubs that are run well.

“If you do that, you start to get clubs, and fans, saying this sustainability score is the one to aspire to; not simply because of what it measures but because it’s also financially rewarding.”

Fair Game is a strong supporter of the government’s fan-led review into football governance and has lobbied politicians to get behind the idea of a regulator. Its concerns are shared by many MPs, but persuading the game to take up the ideas will be more complicated.

The Premier League and the EFL remain deadlocked over a new financial settlement for the professional game, something recommended by the fan-led review 15 months ago. The possibility of a form of financial redistribution to EFL clubs being based in part on sporting merit, as in the Premier League, has been discussed between the two bodies but rewards based on governance have not. Those close to negotiations believe it is not something many clubs would want.

Liverpool fans display a banner at Anfield that reads ‘We Win Cups’
Liverpool fans at Anfield. The club tops the Premier League for financial stability, according to Fair Game. Photograph: Naomi Baker/Getty Images

The sustainability table finds Liverpool top of the Premier League, their position driven by a high score on ‘governance’, calculated using a weighted sum of values on ‘clear governance’, environmental measures and whether the club pay the living wage (Liverpool were the first Premier League club to commit to this in 2017). At the bottom of the Premier League table are Nottingham Forest, the result of a financial stability score of one out of 40.

Calculations of financial stability take into account assets, debt and loans owed in the coming year alongside the key industry measure of wages as a percentage of revenue. Fair Game analysts said the most recent financial information from the club showed Forest’s wage bill is equivalent to 202% of turnover.

Norwich City topped the Championship table ahead of Burnley, the only clubs to generate an overall score of higher than 60, judged by Fair Game’s panel of 40 experts to be a ‘good’ rating.


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