Good governance should bring monetary benefits, argues the football club body

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Football clubs should be financially rewarded if they show good governance and work properly with their fans, according to a group of clubs that advocate more sustainability in the game.

The new ‘Sustainability Index’ by Fair Game, which includes 34 EFL clubs and non-league clubs among its members, paints a worrying picture of England’s top two leagues. The index combines scores awarded for financial stability, good governance, fan engagement and equality standards. Weeks ahead of the expected publication of the government’s plans for an independent regulator, only two Championship clubs and half the Premier League were rated ‘good’.

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Fair Game proposes an annual publication of the index, the first version of which is the result of 18 months of work, and its president Niall Couper believes that its calculations should be taken into account in a possible settlement concluded by the new regulator.

“We believe that issues such as financial stability, good governance, equality standards and fan involvement – all elements of fan-led review – are what really should be held in high esteem in football and should not just be about performance on the pitch,” said Couper. “They are the way to long-term sustainable development.

“Ultimately, we want to develop a system that will start financially rewarding football clubs for good behaviour. When you look at the best regulators in the country, they encourage good behavior and that means rewarding. We have huge revenues affecting the game and we should start looking at how to distribute funds to those clubs that are well run.

“If you do that, you will start winning clubs and fans by saying that this sustainability score is the one to strive for; not only because of what it measures, but also because it is financially viable.”

Fair Game is a strong supporter of the government’s football management review and has lobbied politicians to support the regulator’s idea. His concerns are shared by many MPs, but convincing the game to embrace ideas will be more complicated.

The Premier League and the EFL are at an impasse over a new financial deal for professional play, which was recommended in a fan-driven review 15 months ago. The possibility of a form of financial redistribution for EFL clubs partly based on sporting merit, as in the Premier League, has been discussed between the two bodies, but governance-based awards have not been discussed. Those close to the negotiations believe that this is not something many clubs would like.

Liverpool fans hang a banner at Anfield that reads 'We're winning cups'

Liverpool fans at Anfield. According to Fair Game, the club is the leader of the Premier League in terms of financial stability. Photo: Naomi Baker/Getty Images

The Sustainability Table shows Liverpool topping the Premier League with a high ‘Governance’ score based on a weighted sum of ‘Transparent Governance’, environmental measures and whether the club pays a salary retention (Liverpool were the first Premier League club to commit to this in 2017). At the bottom of the Premier League table is Nottingham Forest, which scored one out of 40 for financial stability.

The financial stability calculation considers assets, debt and loans due in the coming year, as well as an industry-key compensation measure as a percentage of revenue. Fair Game analysts said the club’s latest financial information showed Forest’s wage fund was equivalent to 202% of turnover.

Norwich City finished top of the Championship table ahead of Burnley, the only clubs to have an overall score higher than 60, rated “good” by a panel of 40 Fair Game experts.

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