The English Football Federation, commonly known as the English Football Association (hereinafter “FA”), has introduced new regulations aimed at protecting the historical heritage of English Football Clubs that will apply to the Premier League, the English Football League, the National League, Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship.
The introduction of the new regulations for the start of the 2022/2023 sports season occurs after a consultation process with the aforementioned Leagues and the Football Supporters Association (hereinafter “FSA”), an association that looks after the interests of football fans. English football. It was precisely the deserving association of fans that promoted the movements and protests against the Super League project, to which six Premier League clubs were initially adhered.
Without a doubt, the social movements of the English fans had their fruits, achieving a great impact and the support of the British Government, adding enough strength so that in less than forty-eight hours the English clubs attached to the Super League decided to abandon the project . It seems that the protests of the English fans have reinforced the presence and decision-making capacity of the fans in the operation of the Clubs or that is what the FA intends with the implementation of measures that guarantee the preservation of the historical identity signs of the competing Clubs.
In accordance with the new rules published in the FA circular dated 5 August 2022, if a Club wishes to make a material change to its crest or change the recognized colors of its home shirt, it must carry out a thorough consultation process. and extensive with the supporters of the same fans.
In addition, the Club must demonstrate that the majority of its supporters are in favor of the proposed changes (for example, through an independent survey among subscribers, the Club’s Charity Society and supporters who have attended a certain number of home games).
Measures that seek a balance between the owners of the Clubs and their fans, which from a legal point of view could undermine the decisions that the owners and shareholders of the English Clubs would like to make regarding the sports entity. A limitation that comes at a time when English football is one of the most international and attractive markets for large fortunes from around the world who wish to invest in the sports business.
In the event of a Club breaching the rules, the FA may take appropriate action, such as ordering the Club to re-use the crest or color combination of the previous shirt and may initiate disciplinary action. Legal precepts that must be developed in order to comply with the objective of this new “fanatical” initiative, which is none other than to place fans at the center of the decision-making process on these important issues related to the Clubs’ assets. as stated by the FA on its official website.
The vice president of the FSA, Tom Greatrex, has been satisfied with these measures that protect the historical heritage of sports entities and guarantee the consultation of fans in the face of any change. However, the FSA itself indicates that the measures are insufficient and as an association that looks after the interests of the fans, they will continue to guarantee greater protection.
Can you imagine the applicability of a similar rule in Spanish football?
From the Spanish legal perspective, it is complex to assimilate that the most frequent subscribers and supporters of the Stadium of a Sports Limited Company or Football Club, had decision-making capacities regarding changes to the shield or the recognized colors of their local jersey. It would mean an external interference in the operation of a commercial or private association that is not contemplated in the current legislation and that would be covered by a quite questionable federative circular, given that the Royal Spanish Football Federation does not have among its capacities and functions the channels necessary to give consistency and legal packaging to a decision like the one made by the FA.
Continuing with the comparison between football in England and Spain, it is worth remembering recent events of identity changes in Sports Public Limited Companies that have caused protests or concern from their fans.
Club Atlético de Madrid SAD, and Real Valladolid Club de Fútbol SAD, have recently modified their shields. These changes caused protests by a good sector of its subscribers and groups of fans that have been of no use.
It is true that the most loyal subscribers and fans are the main engine of the sports sector through the purchase of TV packages, subscriptions and tickets, but these fans are protected by the regulations of consumers and users, which could be considered enough to defend their interests as clients/consumers who are not owners or shareholders. Measures such as those applied by the FA in England would be more appropriate for shareholders than for fans and stadium attendees.
The interference of the fans in this type of decision would be a problem for the evolution of the brand and economic development of the Clubs and SADs, which according to multiple reports have allowed them to generate large numbers of business and profits.
An issue that will have an impact in England and that probably amateur associations such as the Federation of Shareholders and Partners of Spanish Football (hereinafter “FASFE”), will take into consideration to obtain a similar application in Spanish sport in search of the rights of Spanish fans are greater with respect to SADs and Clubs.
Rubén Ramírez Muñoz is a Lawyer