Football clubs should be financially rewarded if they show good governance and engage well with their fans, according to a group of clubs championing greater sustainability within the game.

A new ‘sustainability index’ produced by Fair Game, which counts 34 EFL and non-league clubs among its members, paints a worrying picture of the state of England’s top two divisions. The index combines scores awarded on financial stability, governance, fan engagement and equality criteria. Just two Championship clubs and half of the Premier League have been given ‘good’ marks, weeks ahead of the expected publication of government plans for an independent regulator.

Fair Game proposes to publish the index, the first version of which is the result of 18 months’ work, every year and its CEO, Niall Cooper, believes any potential deal reached with the new regulator should include its calculations.

“We believe that things like financial stability, governance, equality standards and fan engagement – all elements within a fan-led review – should really be held in high esteem in football, and it shouldn’t just be in results. On the pitch,” Cooper said. “They are the path to long-term sustainability.

“Ultimately we want to develop a system that starts to financially reward football clubs for good behaviour. When you look at the best regulators in the country they encourage good behavior and that means rewarding. We’ve got huge revenue coming into the game and that’s what we’re starting to see. There should be a way to distribute funds to those clubs that are well run.

“If you do that, you start to get clubs and fans, this consistency score is what they want; not only because of what it measures but also because it’s financially rewarding.”

Fair Game is a strong supporter of the government’s fan-led review of football governance and has lobbied politicians to get behind the regulator’s views. Its concerns are shared by many MPs, but persuading the game to take up views will be more complicated.

The Premier League and EFL remain deadlocked over a new financial deal for the professional game, which was recommended by a fan-led review 15 months ago. As in the Premier League, the possibility of a form of financial redistribution to EFL clubs based on sporting merit has been discussed between the two bodies but not awards based on governance. Those close to the negotiations believe it is not what most clubs want.

Liverpool fans at Anfield. According to Fair Game, the club is at the top of the Premier League for financial stability. Photo: Naomi Baker/Getty Images

The sustainability table ranks Liverpool at the top of the Premier League, their position driven by a high score on ‘Governance’, calculated using a weighted sum of values ​​on ‘Clear Governance’, environmental measures and whether the club pays a living wage (Liverpool committed to this in 2017 First Premier League club). Bottom of the Premier League table is Nottingham Forest, resulting in a financial stability score of one out of 40.

The calculation of financial stability takes into account the key industry measure of wages as a percentage of revenue, as well as assets, liabilities and debts for the coming year. Fair Game analysts revealed the club’s most recent financial information showed Forest’s wage bill was equivalent to 202% of turnover.

Norwich City are ahead of Burnley at the top of the Championship table, the only club to generate an aggregate score of over 60, rated ‘good’ by Fair Game’s panel of 40 experts.


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