Financing Your Club Support as a Football Fan

The cost of being a football supporter quickly mounts up. It’s now reached an all-time high, with club allegiance costing fans across the UK several hundred pounds or more a year. Nevertheless, football club supporters are a die-hard bunch who’ll continue shelling out money to follow their team despite rising costs. Even if it means standing in the pouring rain or freezing cold to watch their heroes losing week after week.


However, there’s a growing feeling of unrest among passionate fans who believe they’re not only unappreciated but also being exploited. And they’re taking back control of community clubs and seeking alternative sources of finance as a means of long-term growth.


Critical Role of Football Fans


Fans are crucial for the future of football. They support clubs financially and help motivate players. This was highlighted during the Covid-19 pandemic when the absence of supporters in the stands or on the terraces threatened the survival of many clubs.


Furthermore, fan engagement that builds loyalty, especially through social media, can be seen as a strategy for long-term sustainability of clubs. Despite all this, fans remain marginalised compared with other stakeholders.

How Fans Help Finance Clubs


Matchday revenue is an important source of income for football clubs. Supporters spend their hard-earned cash on tickets, club shirts, matchday programmes and refreshments in the stadium. Some also pay for live football streaming services.


According to research by credit experts, fans of Premier League sides spend up to 13 per cent of their salary to follow their team. That’s more than £3,000 a season. The figure takes into account:


  • Minimum cost of adult season tickets. 
  • TV subscriptions. 
  • Cost of replica shirts. 
  • Buying match programmes. 
  • Cost of away tickets and train travel.


Financial Dominance of the Premier League


There’s been a huge financial gulf in English football since a handful of top teams broke away to form the Premier League in 1992. Besides revenue from fans, the Premiership has seen a massive injection of overseas investment. More than half of its clubs are now fully or partially owned by Russians, Middle Easterners, and Americans. 


While the top flight continues to attract super-rich backers, the financial imbalance across English football has grown, leaving many non-league clubs and community clubs struggling to make ends meet. Yet these are the very clubs that English football relies on as a vital source of its future stars.


Grassroots Football – the School for Future Stars


Today’s top-flight English footballers didn’t magically spring up overnight. They were nurtured by grassroots community clubs and then progressed through the non-league scene before eventually hitting the big time. Take England captain and prolific striker Harry Kane, for example. The 30-year-old is now feted as one of the best players in the world. 


A far cry from his humble football beginnings. As a young lad, he played for his local east London Sunday league team, Ridgeway Rovers, before plying his trade across the English football pyramid and then joining Spurs in 2009. Kane’s story and the provenance of other top players demonstrate the critical role smaller clubs play in the development of English football.


Overcoming the Challenge of Financial Instability in Football


From inconsistent revenue streams to astronomically-high player salaries, financial instability is a major problem for football clubs. They often find themselves on the brink of financial peril, with administration or liquidation looming.


On the other hand, community-owned clubs are designed to achieve sustainable growth through financial responsibility, transparency and stability. This model represents a compelling case that football clubs can be financially feasible without sacrificing the values of their community. A prime example is FC United of Manchester, set up by fans disheartened by the commercialisation of Manchester United. 


Cash Flow Issues


Cash flow of football clubs fluctuates greatly according to the time of year, which can lead to increased debt. And inability to pay this off can result in a bad credit score and greater difficulties accessing finance in the future. Sports grants may help with funding but the application process can be bureaucratic, time consuming, and ultimately disappointing.


Historically, banks and other lenders provide clubs with finance secured against assets and future income streams such as selling players. But alternative financing methods have developed to meet the ever-evolving football landscape.


Why Fans Are Disillusioned


Modern football is a world where apparently everything can be bought or sold. Even the sense of communal identity that has driven the game for a century and a half has become merely another commodity to be traded and exploited. With the Beautiful Game set to get bigger, it looks like fans can expect to be increasingly treated by major clubs as cash cows rather than loyal supporters.


For many, this goes against the grain. It conflicts with the very essence of being a football fan. And it’s one reason behind the development of community/supporter-owned clubs. The basic idea is that football clubs should represent their communities and fans, not their owners.


How Do Community-Owned Clubs Work?


Backed by the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) – the national organisation for football fans in England and Wales – community ownership is based on two main principles.


  • Democracy. An open, inclusive membership having the majority of voting rights of the club.
  • Growth. A commitment to running the club as a sustainable business, with profits reinvested back into the club rather than distributed among shareholders.


With traditional industries in increasing decline, the role of football clubs as symbols of their community has become increasingly important. And community ownership can potentially develop more relevant, long-term partnerships, particularly with local councils. It can also attract different types of investment and financing. This can be key to cash flow management, particularly important in football.


Looking to the Future


A small but growing number of clubs at the top table of English football are controlled or owned by wealthy individuals or families. This minimises reliance on financing. However, most clubs, including those owned by fans and communities, need to look for external funding. These clubs are showing an increasing interest in alternative forms of debt financing.


The move towards more sustainable financing includes loans or revolving credit with longer repayment terms. This financing provides the flexibility clubs need because of the seasonal nature of their revenue streams. There are also loans that allow a club to borrow against a percentage of the value of its playing squad. And fans are likely to play an increasingly important role in community club financing as they regain control of the grassroots game by becoming more involved in club management.