As Ivan Gazidis will face 300 representatives of supporter groups this evening, it seems an appropriate time to post some information about the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust.
The AST gets some flak from certain other Arsenal fans. I realise that these days every viewpoint of every Arsenal fan will get flak from some other Arsenal supporter somewhere, so in that sense I’m not surprised by it, but I think there are misconceptions about why the AST exists.
Of course things have changed since the AST was formed a decade ago. Arsenal’s Board at that time professed to be – and to be fair largely was – all about custodianship, with the emphasis on the fact that three generations of Hill-Woods had been chairmen and three generations of the Bracewell-Smith family were Board members. There were some large shareholders who were on the Board and a couple of thousand smaller shareholders who held around 10% of the shares. No one wanted to take Arsenal over and turn it into a personal money-making machine, the Board largely worked together to do what was right for the club. Already it seems like a simpler happier time.
Of course the smaller shareholders didn’t always like what the big ones were doing, and they had a chance every year to go to the AGM and say so – not that it usually did any good. Nonetheless, with Arsenal as a public company the Board did (and do) have to answer to the smaller shareholders up to a point, and thus they have to answer to supporters. If there are no small shareholders then there is no answerability. None. If there are fewer smaller shareholders than there were before, there is less answerability. If there is one majority shareholder rather than a number of large shareholders who own no more than 10-20% each, there is still less answerability. You can see where this is going: if there is only one owner holding all the shares then not only is there no answerability to supporters, but there are no checks and balances within the Board itself.
There were also some disagreements between the larger shareholders, though these got markedly worse in the years since the AST’s formation, with a variety of Arsenal Board members being ousted for various reasons (usually talking to someone Danny Fiszman didn’t like).
So the AST wanted to maintain the good things about the set up, and represent the smaller shareholders. Now, although there are fewer small shareholders in their own right, there are 2,000 Fanshare members who own parts of shares, so in total the number of people with an ownership interest in Arsenal has been maintained.
Unfortunately the Board make-up has also changed for the worse, with one majority shareholder who can pretty much do what he wants. So personally I think it’s important that supporters still have some kind of voice, and the best way to do that is by being shareholders, because that’s the only way the club actually has to listen.
This isn’t an AST manifesto, and obviously if you’re interested then just look at the AST website for more, but a few things the AST believes are:
- The best ownership model will always include supporters as shareholders
- The AST would ideally like to see a minimum of 25% of shares in the hands of small shareholders and/or supporters’ groups, so that supporters have an appropriate voice.
- The AST accepts the reality that any stake in Arsenal is available at any time should someone make an acceptable bid, but we oppose any bid to buy the club outright and take it into single ownership
- Arsenal is too important to be owned by any one person.
- The AST would fight any plans by a purchaser of Arsenal to charge the acquisition debt against Arsenal and use the club’s income to service this debt, as has happened at Manchester United (and Liverpool under Hicks and Gillett)
- The AST always wants to see profits reinvested into the club and we do not support dividend payments
- The AST intends to always remain in dialogue with the current Board and Chief Executive on ownership subjects, as well as with any major shareholder outside the Board
- A long term view needs to be taken; reacting to individual events such as losing any single match is not the best way.
Tomorrow: feedback from the Ivan Gazidis Q&A tonight, and more reasons why supporters need a voice.
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