The SIG Column - 4 May

28 Apr 2008

By: Sport Industry Group

Fans are suspicious of the influx of foreign investors targeting British football clubs in recent months. Drew Barrand, head of media at Sport Industry Group, explains why these fears are unfounded...

If we didn’t know it before then we certainly do now. British sports fans have an ever so slightly unattractive xenophobic streak running through them.

Maybe it’s the fact that we’re an island and consequently have a subconscious desire to remain separated from the rest. Or perhaps it’s that much famed ‘the world’s against us’ British stiff upper lip that we cultivate so proudly. But, whatever the reason, we don’t like foreigners messing with our stuff.

Never has this point been so obvious as in the last few months with the suspicious reaction of the majority to the influx of foreign takeover bids for British football clubs.

All sorts of accusations of hidden agenda have been levelled at those pesky foreigners who are seeking to take control of our beloved game.

From the suspicious - ‘they want to get rid of the promotion and relegation system’ – to the downright abusive – ‘they’re too stupid to understand how to run our clubs’ - pretty much every pondering on the subject has concluded with the supposed negative impact of football’s latest money men.

Now far be it for me to suggest that the multitude is wrong but surely it’s worth considering the other side of the coin?

Firstly, whatever the motives, this new trend has increased the finances coming into British clubs. More money means more affluent clubs which leads to better players and improved stadium facilities – can’t really see the downside for fans there.

Secondly, despite accusations against this point, entrepreneur investors are not naïve in the ways of business. British football has become attractive to foreign interest not because they want to throw their money away on a whim taking the club down with it but because it’s finally getting to the point where investment in football makes sound financial sense.

In the main clubs are better run, don’t fritter their millions away as they did in the 90’s, and are now well on their way to being managed like proper businesses as they should be.

There is a reason why entrepreneurs are multi-millionaire businessmen and it’s not because they throw money at unworkable business models.

Finally, and this is the crucial sticking point, foreign investors have been accused of not understanding the traditional values of British football and will not safeguard against corruption of the emotional side of the sport. In short, there is a belief that it’s all about the money and nothing about the game.

Not to be naïve but I find this argument hard to swallow. Yes, investment is about making money and quite rightly, investors look at how best to achieve this when they consider a club takeover.

However, they also realise that what makes the club a commercial proposition is the emotional investment in it by fans and it would take an unprecedented move of stupidity for their goal to be to corrupt this. The FA Premier League is now a championship watched avidly in every corner of the world and just because investors are not from the UK does not mean that they haven’t been immersed in the emotional values of British football.

For me, the view that the foreign invasion are filled with the desire to destroy the traditions and values of British football appears to be a conclusion borne out of an aversion to change and a suspicion of external influence.

Surely an investor with a desire to make a club work properly as a business is a better proposition than one whose heart is ruling his head. It’s that scenario that has ruined many a club in the past that boardrooms should be more afraid of, not those who come armed with a workable business plan and the money to make it succeed.