NUST CONFERENCE 2013 "FINANCIAL FAIR PLAY AND THE CASE FOR FAN ENGAGEMENT"
It's ironic that in the week that Newcastle United banned the three local newspapers from the club, and then banned the Supporters Trust from the Fans Forum after only one meeting, there was a successful conference about fan engagement just across the road.
Thursday 24th October saw the NUST conference take place at Newcastle University Business School. After weeks of chasing up a great group of speakers and making sure we had the teas, coffees and biscuits sorted out and our posters and banners were up on the walls, our Chairman Norman Watson (pictured left) kicked off proceedings with some interesting opening remarks about the aims of the Trust.
He told around 80 delegates that we wanted to provide the right vehicle to give supporters the chance to buy a stake in the club, if the opportunity arose. In the meantime we would continue to try and engage with the club on behalf of fans.
Norman then introduced Sean Hamil (pictured right) to do the opening session about the details of Financial Fair Play and what the new regulations actually mean. Sean is a Lecturer in Management at Birkbeck College, University of London, where he is the academic programme director of the postgraduate sport management programmes, and a Director of Birkbeck Sport Business Centre. Sean's core interest is the corporate governance and regulation of sport on which he has written and co-edited an extensive range of articles and a number of books including: The Changing Face of the Football Business: Supporters Direct. London: Frank Cass, (2001); Football in the Digital Age: Whose Game Is It Anyway?. Edinburgh: Mainstream, (2000); and A Game of Two Halves? The Business of Football. Edinburgh: Mainstream, (1999). Most recently he co-edited Managing Football: An International Perspective. Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann, (2009); and wrote and co-edited Who Owns Football?: The Governance and Management of the Club Game Worldwide.Oxford: Routledge, (October 2010).
This sounds all high brow stuff but Sean has an engaging manner about him with an easy to listen to Irish accent. His presentation included stories about real situations to illustrate the points he was making. Judging by the reaction of delegates and their questions at the end he had hit the mark with everyone.
Next up was John Hays (pictured left). In 1980, with no industry experience and only a desk at the back of his mam's childrenswear shop in Seaham, John worked hard to get his travel business off the ground. More than thirty years on, he is proud to head up Hays Travel – the UK's largest independently owned travel agency, recognised as one of the Sunday Times' Best Companies to Work For in the UK.
Educated at a local grammar school John went on to study Maths at Oxford University. After graduating from Oxford he completed a Masters in Business Administration at Manchester Business School, before returning to his North East roots to set up Hays Travel. Today the company has 43 shops and two call centres across the North of England, as well as a national home working division of over 300. Hays Travel has certainly come a long way since its humble beginnings. In 2006 the organisation was recognised as one of the Sunday Times' 100 Best Companies to Work For in the UK. The company now employs over 800 people and sales last year were a record £520 million.
Outside of travel, John spent three years between 2006 and 2009 living out a childhood dream as Vice Chairman of Sunderland Football Club. So, in the week leading up to the Sunderland/Newcastle derby, in a conference room looking over onto St. James' Park, the ex-Vice Chairman of Sunderland football club explained what it's like as a successful businessman to operate in the Alice in Wonderland world of football finance. John was the English face of the Irish based Drummaville consortium and worked closely with Niall Quinn as Chairman and Roy Keane as Manager. John was able to give us an interesting insight into how the management of a football club compares with managing any other business.
During the coffee break there was a buzz around the room as people exchanged views about what they had heard. John Hays was unable to stay for the whole afternoon but he found it almost impossible to get out of the room as delegates, mostly Newcastle fans, engaged him in conversation and bombarded him with questions about his time working with Niall Quinn and particularly Roy Keane!
Antonia Hagemann (pictured left) then explained her project for Supporters Direct on improving football governance through supporter involvement and community ownership. Antonia researched and wrote the European Supporters Direct feasibility study which focused specifically on how supporters' representation might be incorporated into existing or new structures. She also works with the European Commission and National Football Associations in an advisory capacity.
She co-developed Article 35 in the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play (FFP) Regulations requiring the appointment of a Supporter Liaison Officer at every club participating in UEFA competitions, and works together with the UEFA club licensing team and all 53 UEFA member associations to implement the project. This seems to mean she's responsible for Lee Marshall's appointment at Newcastle United!
Our final speaker was Jens Wagner (pictured below), a fan of Hamburgh S.V. in the Bundesliga. Jens talked about how different the system is in Germany. He attended his first Hamburgh game in 1974. He has been a season ticket holder at the Club since 1994. From 2002 to 2010 he was a Board member of the HSV Supporters Club (official members department of Hamburgh SV). Jens was a founding member and representative of the German supporters umbrella organization Unsere Kurve (since 2005) and is responsible for the Financial Fair Play and the 50+1 rule at Unsere Kurve. (Unsere Kurve: 19 influential fan organisations with overall c.200.000 members).
Most delegates were amazed at how different the system is in Germany. Bearing in mind how successful German clubs have been over the years, it's very different to this country where the only clubs owned by the fans are clubs that have had to be rescued from bankruptcy and often serious financial mismanagement. Jens explained how there are fan representatives at Board level in German clubs and they are able to influence club strategy at the highest level within their clubs.
Interestingly, Jens told us that his own club Hamburgh are currently facing a challenge to their fan owned status. Some fans feel that as Hamburgh haven't won a trophy for some years it might be better if they were to accept finance from an external investor and hand over control of their football club in the hope that the money will make them more competitive. It seems that the grass always seems greener on the other side.
Newcastle United Supporters' Trust would like to thank all of our speakers at the conference and Newcastle University Business School for hosting the event. We are continuing to work with a group of their students on a project about fan engagement and we'll report back through the Trust website on that project in due course. We'd also like to thank Show Racism the Red Card who supported our event, the BBC who covered the event for their Politics Show, and of course all of the delegates who turned up and helped to make the event such a great success.