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Last Updated: Friday, 18 November 2005, 00:00 GMT
Tackle cash divide, football told
Football players falling over each other
Small clubs may clash with bigger rivals over their share of cash
Football in England and Wales faces a difficult future unless cash for the game is more evenly shared out among clubs, a report has warned.

The report by academics at Birkbeck College, London said a rich-poor divide was making games less competitive and eroding supporters' interest.

On top of that, many clubs were still saddled with "serious debt problems".

The report said clubs needed to be better managed to ensure any extra cash distributed was well spent.

"The game is at a cross-roads," said Professor Christine Oughton, director of Birkbeck's Football Governance Research Centre.

The top league, the Premiership, "is experiencing a growing crisis with stagnant attendances and a lack of competitive balance," she continued.

Said Joe McLean, a football finance specialist at Grant Thornton, which prepared the report in association with Birkbeck: "Unless a more level playing field is established through a better sharing of resources the game is destined for further difficulties."

'Watch the money'

Eight out of 10 clubs said they wanted a bigger share of lucrative television contracts, arguing it would help narrow the gap between the richest and poorest, limit risks, ease planning and help repay debts.

By contrast, in the Premiership only 40% backed the plans, with 50% objecting to any change in the status quo and 10% undecided.

Any significant shift in how money is divided is unlikely to happen until club governance improves further, said Professor Oughton.

Speaking to the BBC, Professor Oughton explained that while the latest report had found a "modest improvement" in how clubs in the Premier and Football League are run, there was still a long way to go.

Especially when it came to appointing independent non-executive directors to clubs' boards as there was a lack of people charged with keeping an eye on how the business of football was financed.

Professor Oughton said that "people need to watch where the money is going".

'Natural Ownership'

One way to improve this would be to increase the role of supporters' trusts - organisations that are run by fans and that either own part of, or all of, a number of football clubs.

"The supporters' trust movement is thus potentially far more than just another form of representation of, and lobbying by, supporters," the report said.

In other sectors, one company ceasing to trade may be no great loss - but football clubs are unlike other companies in this respect
State of the Game

"It has the potential to become the natural ownership form for football clubs. This is true for the UK, Europe and globally."

While backing closer links to supporters and their surrounding communities, the report voiced concerns about transparency over the fees football agents are paid when they negotiate a player's transfer from one club to another.

Almost all of the clubs questioned said they would back greater disclosure of what agents are paid.

This ideal is under threat, however, by a shift in the way clubs think that they should be run and a move from the view that listing on the stock market brings more benefits than headaches.

'Cross-roads'

Professor Oughton pointed to the recent takeover of Manchester United and its subsequent delisting from the London Stock Exchange.

The company, which previously had been a model of transparency and good governance, no longer published its figures on money paid to agents, she explained.

Football's governing bodies need to take a more active role in how clubs do their accounting and oversee the running of their business, the report said.

The Football Association is in the process of bringing out a code of conduct and that will prove a vital component in the chain of governance.

Changes are needed because leaving things as they are may have long-term consequences on football, its clubs and supporters, the report's authors warned.

"In other sectors of the economy, one company ceasing to trade may be no great loss; indeed it may be of benefit to all concerned. But football clubs are unlike other companies in this respect," they said.


SEE ALSO:
Football deal ends BSkyB monopoly
17 Nov 05 |  Business
Football League target agent fees
15 Nov 05 |  Business
Kenyon upbeat on Premier TV deal
14 Nov 05 |  Business


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