In our previous articles “Where do we go from here?” and “Where do we go from here – Part 2”, we have looked at the challenges the Club faces in terms of balancing the books and continuing to challenge and compete in one of the most competitive leagues in the world.
One of the discussions that often raises its head when looking at how the Club can compete in the future is the question of investment. This discussion has become increasingly relevant to us with the recent American interest in the Club, and it would be naïve to think that there will not be other interested parties in the future. Of course the previous example was not really a question of investment in the Club, merely a sale of shares by the existing shareholders with no prospect of a cash injection into the Club.
In that previous scenario, the Trust Board recommended that the Trust should not seek to sell their shares and that they would not be in favour of that particular deal, a view that was supported by those in attendance during the Fans Forum which was convened to discuss the American interest. However the question has been asked whether there would be any scenario where the Trust would be prepared to support a change in the ownership structure of the Club.
Fundamentally, the Supporters’ Trust is solely interested in what is in the best interests of the Club and most importantly its Fans, both current and future, so if a deal met that criteria then we would be very interested in investigating this further. The recent American deal presented very little evidence as to how that deal would benefit the club.
As a Supporters’ Trust we are open minded on the issue of a change in the shareholding of the Club. The majority of the current shareholders have held a stake in the Club for 15 years and the makeup of the Board has remained largely unchanged for a decade. It is unrealistic to think that things will not change in the future, for any number of reasons.
So, in what circumstances could the Supporters’ Trust be in favour of a change in the ownership of the Club?
Our first question is “How will this benefit the Club?”. Two of the major areas that the fans are interested in are obviously the matchday squad and the issue of stadium expansion. If any interested party was also looking at investing funds which would improve either or both of these areas, then this would be something we would very interested in exploring further.
Our second question is “How will the interests of the Fans be protected?”. Two of the key aims of the Supporters’ Trust are to bring the Club closer to the fans and to maintain a presence on the Club Board in order to ensure the voice of the Fans is heard. Currently we are fortunate to have a majority of shareholders who are fans themselves and over the last 15 years have acted in the interests of the Fans and the Club. The Supporters’ Trust, due to its position as a major shareholder and representative of the Fans, has therefore had the ability to play a significant part in influencing the direction of the Club with the aim of ensuring it acts in the interests of the Fans.
With that in mind, as a Supporters’ Trust we would seek to ensure that any new party would recognise the unique place that the Supporters have at our Football Club. We would therefore seek to protect the influence that the Fans have at Board level via the Supporters Director, who represents the fans as a major shareholder.
It is common knowledge that the Trust has recently tried, without success, to increase its shareholding to 25%. That 25% figure is important as it helps ensure in Company Law that we always retain that strong voice whatever happens with the other shareholders. It also would not allow any new incoming shareholders to issue additional shares over time at a value they choose and thereby dilute existing shareholders like ourselves out of existence. If any other party could help us achieve our goal of strengthening our voice at board level then that would definitely be something we would be in favour of.
A question that has been asked on social media is whether the Supporters’ Trust would ever be prepared to sell either part or all of our shareholding. On one side this is completely against one of the founding aims of the Trust which is to maintain a stake in the Club. However, what if it was in the best interests of the Club and the Fans for us to sell? The Supporters’ Trust has always said we will assess any deal on its merits, which is one reason why we met with representatives of the interested American parties last year.
Writing this article, it is difficult to quantify in what scenario it would be in everyone’s best interests for the Trust to sell our stake and reduce, or even totally eliminate, the voice of the fans within the Club Boardroom. However, if any outside party did make an offer which was so obviously in the interests of the Football Club, and there were guarantees in place to ensure that the interests of the fans could be protected, then this is something we would assess on its merits. We can never say never.
As with the previous example last year, no decision would be made without the voice of the fans being heard. The Trust Board are merely custodians and, while the Trust Board may make a recommendation, any decision would be made following a full consultation with our Members. Ensuring your voice is heard is a key benefit of being a fully paid member of the Supporters’ Trust.
The Supporters’ Trust are in a unique position, compared to other shareholders, of having no personal stake in the Club and have no personal financial incentive to consider. As per the previous American interest, we will always perform our own due diligence on any interested parties. This is not to say that the other shareholders would not consider the long-term impact of selling their stake. The majority are long-term Swans fans and we would hope that anyone looking to sell their stake would complete their own due diligence prior to making any decision.
As long as we retain our voice within the Club, the Supporters Trust will always act in the best interests of the Fans and the Club and do everything in our power to ensure that the Club Board listens to the voices of the Fans to ensure we continue our unique success story and safeguard our club for future generations.