REVEALED: the best and worst owners in English football

By Nick Harris

SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year

31 December 2012

Swansea City have the best owners of any club playing within English football according to a wide-ranging survey conducted by Sportingintelligence over the past month.

Dave Whelan at Wigan has been voted the second best owner, followed by Sheikh Mansour of Manchester City in third place, Jeremy Peace at West Bromwich Albion in fourth and Arsenal’s owners in fifth.

A LIVE BLOG ON THE RESULTS IS RUNNING ON 31 DECEMBER here

Arsenal are unique among those five clubs because all the fans of those other four clubs who took part in the survey rated their owners as ‘good’ or better, while only 18 per cent of Arsenal fans rated their owners that highly.

Arsenal are so highly placed overall because so many fans of other clubs appreciate their situation more than their own fans do.

Almost 1,000 supporters representing more than 60 different clubs shared their views via an online poll, directly by email via this website, via Facebook and on Twitter.

Swansea topped the poll with almost 12 per cent of all votes, with Wigan’s Whelan getting 10.3 per cent, Mansour 9.5 per cent and the owners of West Brom and Arsenal more than 7 per cent each.

A full breakdown of voting is in the first graphic below. See notes above it for an explanation of its contents.

Altogether, 44 different club owners received at least one vote as the best owners in English football.

Swansea are 20 per cent owned by their fans, and fan-owned clubs at AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester also made the top 20 while 3.3 per cent of voters nominated the generic ‘any club owned by supporters’ as the best.

Swansea have been hailed as “the most high-profile example of the involvement of a Supporters Trust in the direct running of a club – and you can’t underestimate the value of what they have done”, according to Kevin Rye of Supporters Direct.

“They have shown that you can still reach the top flight by being sensible, not over-loading debt burdens and chasing the dream and with formal, democratic fan involvement,” says Rye. “They have helped us debunk the myth that this can’t happen.”

The worst owners in English football according to the survey are Venky’s, the Indian poultry firm who have owned Blackburn Rovers since November 2010, since when the club have been relegated from the Premier League, lost large numbers of respected key staff – and become a laughing stock.

Blackburn’s owners polled 27.3 per cent of all the votes for worst owners.

Voters evidently picked their selections for a multitude of reasons, some voting on the basis of a negative impact at a particular club, and a large number of others on the basis of perceived damage to the wider game because of the actions of other owners.

Few fans could doubt that Venky’s have been inept and / or careless, but equally few who would argue that bad owners have wreaked havoc at Portsmouth, Birmingham, Leeds and in other places.

Many fans at Manchester United argue the Glazer family have placed supporters a long way down the list of their priorities and fans are there simply to assist in profit-making. Just as valid, many fans at others clubs feel a burning animosity towards billionaire foreigners who have bought clubs as playthings and utterly distorted the competitive balance of football in the process.

The latter reasoning explains why the second-worst owner in the poll is Russian plutocrat Roman Abramovich of Chelsea, who has fired and hired ruthlessly on a frequent basis while using his oil wealth to buy expensive players, pay them massive sums and win silverware along the way. The sacking of Roberto Di Matteo also happened during the polling period, a reminder of Abramovich’s trigger-happy behaviour.

The Glazers of United, who have laden a previously debt-free club with masses of debt, are in third place, followed by Portsmouth’s owners who sank them into their latest administration, followed by the Leeds United of Ken Bates.

The survey took place between 12 November and 14 December and as such pre-dated the GFH Capital takeover at Leeds, and pre-dated the latest farce at Blackburn.

As well as votes on the best and worst owners, Sportingintelligence also gathered information from fans about the reasons behind their choices, their views on wealth redistribution, and whether fans are interested in owning a part of their own club, or not.

Submissions running to hundreds of thousands of words on what is right and wrong with English football – or to be more specific, what fans think is right or wrong about the way owners are behaving – have allowed us to assess in broad terms why fans voted in a particular way; and also allow a broad categorisation in the tables below of why fans voted in a certain way.

More detailed findings will be discussed in a live blog on this website today (Monday 31 December 2012, link to it here), and in other articles over time on this website.

THE MOST-READ ARTICLES on Sportingintelligence in 2012

What the results table tells you

The 20 clubs that received the most votes for best owners are detailed in the first graphic, with the other 24 that got at least one vote in small print beneath the table.

The ranking, club name and per cent share of the total vote are self-explanatory.

The % of votes from ‘own fans’ means the share of the vote that came from fans of that club. So, for example, Swansea received 11.8 per cent of all votes (or 118 for every 1,000 cast), and of those, 2.2 per cent (or 22 of every 1,000) came from Swansea fans.

That means the balance of Swansea’s vote, or 96 votes of 118 in every thousand, came from fans of other clubs.

The ‘how many diff clubs’ fans voted’ column tells you how widespread the appreciation for each club was among other clubs; at least one fan from 21 different clubs voted for Swansea, for example.

Most clubs received only a small part of their total vote from their own fans, and in the cases of Stoke and Fulham, all the votes for them were from fans of other clubs (because no Stoke or Fulham fans identified themselves as such when they voted).

Conversely, the vast majority of the votes that put Crystal Palace in 10th place came from Palace fans, and all the votes that got Burnley into 18th place came from Burnley fans. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this – it shows fans of those clubs hugely appreciate their owners while that positive ownership is less widely known away from that club.

The ‘Why’ column attempts to give an overview of the reasons behind voting, or at least the consensus as gleaned from the many written reasons submitted.

FCC: a fan-centered club, typically involving partial or whole fan ownership, with fan consultation the norm, and fans’ interests routinely considered.

FCH: an owner who is a local and / or fan of the club, with the club’s interests at heart. Dave Whelan at Wigan and Steve Gibson at Middlesbrough most prominently fall into this category but so does Bill Kenwright at Everton, and the owners at Palace, Stoke, Norwich and other clubs.

BB: An owner who is a benevolent benefactor (or sugar daddy). Sheikh Mansour and Abramovich both fit this bill, but Whelan, Gibson, the Coates family at Stoke and others also do too.

FP&S: Financial prudence & stability. Owners who have not saddled club with leveraged debt or bought success via massive spending on a trophy asset, and who have, generally, lived within their means but achieved success anyway. This might not always be appreciated by some fans (Arsenal) but it seems to be by others (West Brom / Tottenham).

Manchester United are the only club in the top 20 where the owners fit none of these descriptions and have achieved success anyway. Those who voted for them took the view, generally, that the Glazers had continued to run United as a money-making machine but the club had also delivered trophies consistently in their ownership too. This is clearly not a view many United fans share but one that is held in some areas nonetheless.

The graphic also tells us what fans of each club think about their own situation. Supporters were asked to rate their owners as good, neutral or bad and this is self-explanatory below. All Swansea fans said their owners were good (and many stated excellent or other glowing terms). The same applied to fans from Wigan, Manchester City, West Brom, Middlesbrough, AFC Wimbledon, Crystal Palace, Norwich, FC United of Manchester, Huddersfield, Burnley and Brighton. Fans from Peterborough, Wrexham, Brentford, Cheltenham, Chester FC and others also have 100 per cent ‘good’ ratings.

There are evidently many clubs out there where fans are appreciative of the way their clubs are run. And there are others (Arsenal and Manchester United most obviously in this top 20) where they are not.

The last legs of the graphic break down what fans of each club think in terms of best and worst owners. Again, this is self-explanatory – but it is also a snapshot. When up to 100 fans of a particular club have voted, they may have nominated a dozen or more best and worst choices between them.

This graphic presents the most common view in each case. So Swansea fans generally saw their own owners as best and Blackburn’s as worst. Wigan fans saw their own owner as best but those at United and Chelsea as worst. Arsenal fans saw their own owners and Wigan’s as best (but neither was resounding) but clearly thought Abramovich was worst.

The huge diversity of responses is precisely what one should expect from a game grounded in opinions, diversity, rivalries and self-interest.

This first graphic attempts to distill a mass of information into a broad overview.

Article continues (and worst owners) below

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The worst owners in English football …

There has been an assumption by many contributors that this category would be a walkover for Blackburn’s owners, Venky’s, and they have come out on top. But that assumption also disregards the strength of feeling in other parts of the game about the way bad owners have destroyed other clubs (Portsmouth being a prime example), and how the super-rich have distorted the landscape for everybody else (Abramovich / Mansour).

The key to the graphic below for the ‘Why’ section:

DC: Owners who have damaged a club, structurally or financially. This is clearly the case at Blackburn, where a well-run established Premier League club has been relegated and in turmoil for two years. It is also the case at Manchester United, where hundreds of millions of pounds of leveraged debt has meant tens of millions of pounds spent each year on servicing it; and this was potentially a massive threat to the club at least until the PIK debt was restructured. Ken Bates at Leeds took that club into administration and into League One, while the damage to Birmingham under Carson Yeung has been obvious, and the damage to QPR during Tony Fernandes’ free-spending but inexperienced reign is still unfolding. It should be noted, however, that although fans of Arsenal are not happy, not a single Arsenal fan said they were the worst owners in all of England. Similarly no QPR fan or Man City fan and only a tiny fraction of Chelsea fans thought their owners to be the worst.

AF: Owners who have alienated fans, in myriad ways, whether at Blackburn, Portsmouth and Leeds (all obvious), Manchester United (over tickets as well as debt), Arsenal (lack of trophies combined with high prices) and Cardiff (an unwanted ‘rebranding’ among other things).

DWG: Owners perceived to be damaging to the wider game through ‘buying’ success and distorting the playing field on a scale not seen before they arrived; ie: Abramovich and Mansour. It is notable Sheikh Mansour is also high in the best owners, and not as high as Abramovich in the worst owners, perhaps because he is seen as wholly good for his own club, unlike to autocratic Abramovich is perceived to be.

Notable also is the perception of the fans of the clubs here: all City and QPR fans think their owners are good, as do most but not all Chelsea fans. But Blackburn’s owners and those at United, Portsmouth, Bates-era Leeds and Arsenal are anti-owner in relation to their own club. The breadth of feeling against these particular owners is shown by the number of different clubs’ fans who voted them as worst owners.

Article continues below

 

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The survey also asked fans, if they were owners of a club, whether they would share their revenues with other clubs. Of those who expressed a view, 37 per cent said ‘Yes’, 16 per cent said yes but conditionally (with many citing feeder club arrangements, unprompted) and 47 per cent ‘No’.

The survey also asked whether fans had any interest in owning shares in their club. Many already do, of course, at clubs like Swansea, AFC, FCUM and elsewhere. But overall, only 45 per cent of fans said they had any interest in owning a stake in their club, and 55 per cent had no interest.

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