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A critical analysis of governance structures within supporter owned football clubs

Ward, Sara Jane (2013) A critical analysis of governance structures within supporter owned football clubs. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

The aim of this study was to critically analyse governance structures within supporter owned football clubs. Mutuality is a longstanding successful model of ownership within European professional football. There was little understanding of mutuality as a form of ownership in British football until it emerged during the past decade, albeit confined to lower leagues. This research utilised a multiple case study methodology to critically analyse the key issues relating to governance structures within supporter owned football clubs. Due to financial mismanagement under private ownership, there has been a recent rise of Supporters’ Trusts taking ownership of their football clubs in the U.K. The key objectives of this research were to identify what mutual business models exist in the organisation of football and examine which governance structures are the most appropriate for mutual football clubs to operate effectively. The study focused on five football clubs adopting varying mutual business models with differing fortunes. The sample encompassed clubs who had matured with the model, clubs who had adopted it out of financial necessity and newly formed clubs which had evolved using the mutual model. This research represented what Weber referred to as ‘ideal types’ by purposively selecting case studies by type, which brought to the surface issues and tensions that improved our understanding of mutual organisations in a specific temporal context (Weber, 1949). The main findings reveal that supporter ownership allowed a greater sense of ‘buy in’ and inclusion of a wider cross-section of stakeholders. However, evidence shows limitations to mutuality in identifying alternative revenue streams, overly bureaucratic decision-making, and ability to developing capabilities to compete. It is the first major study to identify detailed governance processes of supporter owned football clubs and more significantly, has provided an original qualitative critique in the academic field. This thesis makes a number of significant contributions to knowledge. The research has been conducted in a way that allowed an emergent approach to epistemology. It has afforded the researcher the opportunity to produce knowledge that is both practically useful and academically rigorous, and it represents an important contribution to the nonprofit governance literature as well as providing a deeper understanding of sports governance themes in a football context.

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