Why is community ownership better

The Killie Trust initiated the Community Ownership Group (COG) in May 2012. The purpose of this initiative is to make Kilmarnock Football Club community owned as soon as possible. 

The Vision for Kilmarnock Football Club

The Killie Trust’s vision for Kilmarnock Football Club is for it to be a well-run club which puts the fans and community at the heart of everything it does.  Fans will own at least 50%+1 of the club with the remaining shareholders understanding and supporting the principles of community ownership.

How do supporters have more control when it is a community owned club?

The members also elect the board of the Killie Trust. If the members disagree with how the Trust is being run then members get an opportunity every year to elect new people onto the board. These elections are carried out on the democratic principles of one person one vote regardless of how much time or money they put into the Trust. This ensures that no individual can hold undue influence over the Trust.

The members of the Trust also decide who should represent them on the club board. This will be decided using the same principles as the Trust Board elections. Those standing for election to the club board would need to meet certain criteria before being eligible to stand. Therefore one of the main strengths of community ownership is that everyone eligible gets one vote.

Community ownership is not about the day to day running of the Club, it is about democratically deciding who should make the strategic decisions about how our club is run. This process ensures that those who take on this role are held accountable for their actions and provide acceptable explanations for those decisions. This is good governance.

Community ownership is not about picking the team on a Saturday, it is not about deciding which player to buy or what is on the menu at hospitality. These are all decisions for employed staff to take. Community ownership is about deciding who should represent your views about how Kilmarnock Football Club engages with its supporters  and the wider community. It is also about deciding the future direction of the Club and ensuring that decisions taken are right for the club as a whole and not individuals within it.

Only genuine community ownership will give the supporters the opportunity to put an asset lock on Rugby Park. This means that our ground cannot be sold without the knowledge or permission of the fans. It also ensures that a reasonable market value is obtained if the fans agree that moving to new ground is in the best interests of the club and it’s supporters.

So how does the current form of ownership at Killie compare to community ownership.

Here are the key differences.

 Category Community Ownership of Kilmarnock FC Current ownership of Kilmarnock FC
Legal Status Co-operative Community Benefit Society

Limited by Shares

Legal Objectives To provide community benefit written into constitution – The trust is committed to supporting local sport in the area.The trust is a not for profit organisation, all profits are reinvested into the club and the community.

Legally constituted to provide value for shareholders.

(Given the current size of the debt this an unlikely occurrence so the model is inappropriate)

Financial Sustainability Financial prudence is written into their constitution, with transparency and  accountability assured by democratic model. There is no such provision in this model of ownership.
Financial Risk Management Unlikely to build up debts from private lenders as these cannot be converted into shares. Sustainable growth The Club has built up debt, including soft loans and floating charges over assets. This is common in this type of ownership model as it can be difficult to access other types of finance.Risky strategy
Voluntary Support Club would be owned by the fans and community therefore evidence from similar clubs is they have a large pool of willing volunteers. Privately owned businesses may reduce the pool of volunteers as the ethos and benefits of volunteering may not be understood.
Network of support Member of Supporters Direct alongside 34 other supporters’ trusts who provide from mutual support/benefits.The Co-operative sector offer extended advice and support.Competition on the pitch – co-operation off the pitch. All other clubs are viewed as competitors.
Grants Non profit distributing Co-operative. Eligible for larger range of grants   including from the co-operative sector. As a privately owned Company KFC will find it very hard to meet eligibility criteria.
Board structure Democratic model with large pool of candidates, all positions will be either elected   from trust membership (open to all) or co-opted for particular skills. For a long time there was only one Board member. In August 2013 Billy Bowie joined the Board.There is the risk of private motivation outweighing community needs and a short-term   perspective.

The Wisdom of Crowds Part Three

Buy a brick at Rugby Park

Having attended the Supporters Summit 2013 at the English Football Associations new centre of excellence at St Georges Park, which was hosted by Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters Federation. This event was attended by supporters from across all Europe. These supporters came from a wide range of clubs in a variety of situations. Some are simply trying to keep their club alive despite the best efforts of business minded people, others have lost that battle and have started their own phoenix club based on democratic community ownership principles. The Trusts from many of EPL clubs are working to keep their club grounded in their community with a local sense of identity and history.

The very next weekend we met up with an equally diverse group of Scottish football supporters at the Supporters Direct Scotland Club Ownership Summit at Stirling Albion. Here we met supporters who already own their football club or in a very good position to take control of the destiny of their club or believe that community ownership is the only sustainable future for their club.

So what have learned from meeting all these football supporters?

The position of our football club and the deteriorating relationship between He that “runs it” and its supporters is almost the default position for football clubs today. The single person ownership model is more prevalent than at any other time. A lot of football clubs are run with a cavalier disregard for the fundamentals of economics, business planning, marketing, social responsibility and sound financial planning. Sadly this includes our own club. Most of the clubs that make use of these basic business tools are clubs where fans have a strong voice or they are the outright owners.

Clubs that become community owned know that their most important asset is the supporters because without them there is nothing. A good relationship must be built and maintained with them to ensure sustainability off the pitch which ultimately helps to bring success on the pitch. At the Supporters Summit 2013 Tim Connelly the Vice President of Sales for the Green Bay Packers, the only community owned club in the NFL, said “if our customers are angry with us we have missed the point”. He also observed that Green Bay are in the subscription business “we want people to keep coming back and signing up for longer, to do that we have to give them something they want, they have to have a sense of community with the club”.

Back in Kilmarnock however, our Chairman seems unwilling to engage with the local community. Our attendances are dwindling, a 16% reduction in home attendances last season alone1. The average age of Killie supporters is rising so we are facing a demographic time bomb. We are a club that is in danger of literally dying out in the next 50 years unless we start trying to reverse this trend now. There is no vision or plan to reverse this trend coming from the boardroom. The local community is the biggest and most likely source of new supporters for us. As a football club our very existence depends on developing a long term and comprehensive strategy to bring in new supporters. This means Killie have to be at the very heart of the community.

The Trust has developed a number of projects that promote education, health and well-being in our community that also raise awareness of Kilmarnock Football Club. These projects have all been designed to be sustainable over a long period of time which is vital if the club is to start growing its support again. We realised from the start that we had to use the minimum amount of club resources as these are in very short supply. The K-Steps programme is just one of these projects. We have several others at an advanced stage of readiness, but they have been sitting on the shelf for over 18 months. The key element to going forward with these projects is the engagement of the club. The Trust has made several attempts to engage with Mr Johnston on the subjects of community development, the use of volunteers and community ownership. These were generally rebuffed and those that did move forward took so long to do so that the opportunity was lost or the conditions for club involvement were such that the board of the Killie Trust would have been at risk of breaking its own operating rules.

So where do we go from here? People say that community ownership cannot work at big clubs but the Champion’s League final this year laid that myth to rest once and for all. We, as a community, need to take the destiny of our football club into our own hands.  There are great examples of community ownership across the UK.

There is no quick, easy answer to the difficulties our club faces, but the current chairman has no plan to take our club forwards and is unwilling to accept any support other than cash. Our Football Club should be doing great things in our community right now. Things that would start to reverse the inevitable decline we are in right now. However, short-termism is the order of the day for the Chairman and one man board of Kilmarnock Football Club.

There is no white knight waiting in the wings and anyone that claims to be a white knight needs to answer some very serious questions about their plans.  People keep on asking “where is the alternative”. WE, the supporters of Kilmarnock Football Club, founded in 1869, are the alternative. Fans are always the bank of last resort. When everything has been run into the ground and every line of credit fails and the gates are about to be locked forever, the fans pull together. They find a way to put aside their differences and take that step into the unknown and take control of the football club they love.

It is happening right now at Dunfermline. Pars UNITED have been named the preferred bidder. The only other bidder decided to remain anonymous and this lack of transparency appears to have affected their chances.

It is happening right now at Hearts. The Foundation of Hearts has put in a very strong bid for the club and we will know soon if it has succeeded.

Are Hearts or Dunfermline fans any smarter than Killie fans? No. The only reason we will fail is because we fail ourselves.

What can we do?

Reference

1. Kilmarnock Standard 12.07.2013, page 103, John Livingston.

The Wisdom of Crowds Part One

st georges park cropped

Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters Federation held their first Supporters’ Summit at the English FA’s new Centre of Excellence, St George’s Park near Burton upon Trent on the 22nd of June.

Two volunteers from the Killie Trust made time to attend the summit on behalf of the board. Events like this are very interesting and well worthwhile attending. The speakers were very informative and the workshops were very relevant. The best thing about the trip to Burton upon Trent was the opportunity to meet supporters from other football clubs and Trusts from across the UK and Europe. The most striking thing about speaking to other supporters is how much we have in common. Our situation is not unique. This is very unfortunate for the health of football but is fortunate for us as supporters, as it provides us with a wealth of experience and knowledge to draw on in our efforts to bring our club into community ownership in a sustainable way that is valued by everyone in our community.

The format of the day was fairly straight forward. During the opening session we heard from the Andy Burnham MP and David Bernstein the Chairman of the English FA. Andy Burnham was instrumental in getting Supporters Direct established back in 2000. David Bernstein was the chairman of Manchester City FC but he still sees himself as a fan first.

The rest of the day was split into workshops so our intrepid volunteers spilt up in order to cover as much ground as possible, gather as much information and hear the views of as many people as they could. The workshops they went to were as follows (for more details please check out the Supporters direct page about the summit.):

Sustainability or Bust. This workshop covered how community owned football clubs must to have a sustainable business model and how this can be achieved by having a long term financial plan.

Reclaim our game. This gave practical guidance on how fans can get involved in their clubs and make a real difference in how it is run and ensure that good governance takes place.

Improving football governance. There are great examples from all across Europe where fans are making a real difference to how football is being run. In Sweden fans ensured the 50+1 rule was kept for all sports clubs in the country despite the wishes of a few powerful individuals.

Fan engagement: Why it works for clubs and fans. This was a fascinating presentation from Tim Connolly the Vice president of sales for the Green Bay Packers. Green bay is the only community owned club in the NFL. Tim gave some great examples of how the community ownership model really works for them. Green Bay have a waiting list for tickets but only charge the league average for their tickets. For every dollar spent at the Green Bay’s stadium $5 are spent in the teams local community.

Transparency and Vigilance. Micah Hall from Portsmouth gave an account of his search for the truth about the ownership of his club Portsmouth FC on his Hall Right Now Blog and how transparency is vital to the health of every organisation. The owners of Pompey tried to sue Micah over the content of his blog. As he said “you know you are asking the right questions when that happens”.

They also bumped in to some of the people running the Shelbourne FC Trust (The 1895 Trust) and had a chat about the good old days of Killie in Europe.

The Trust Movement in Ireland has had a great boost in recent months with the launch of the ‘Heart of the Game’ handbook. A new ‘how to’ guide for League of Ireland supporters. This handbook has received government backing and was launched at Dáil Éireann by Minister of State for Sport, Michael Ring TD. – See more at: http://heartofthegame.ie/

By all accounts it was well worth the long journey to St Georges Park. Which for the record is so new it is not on Sat Nav yet. For the purposes of full disclosure our volunteers paid for the entire trip themselves.

Killie Trust Board Member Interviewed at Supporters Summit 2013

Killie Trust board member Andy Millar was interviewed by the Co-Op news channel at the Supporters Summit 2013 which was held at St Georges Park on the 22nd June.  He appears about 1 minute 20 seconds. There are a lot very interesting comments made about community ownership in the video.

A report on the whole summit can be found here on Supporters Direct website.