Faceless overseas billionaires motivated by pure profit investing in UK community assets? No, I’m not talking about property development, but football, if widely reported sentiment is to be believed. If you’ve spent the last week residing under a large rock, you may have missed the furore surrounding the European Super League (if you can unite Boris Johnson, James Milner and my nan – you’re probably in trouble). For the uninitiated, last week saw the launch – and subsequent collapse – of the European Super League. 12 of the continent’s richest clubs attempted to breakaway from UEFA and form a new mid-week competition. These founding members, each assured of permanent league status, would carve up an estimated €3.5bn across the first season, just for turning up.
The announcement sent shockwaves through world football and the reaction was immediate. This represented a closed shop, an attempt by a small elite to maximise and solidify their own dominance to the detriment of everybody else. Proposals were vehemently opposed by the overwhelming majority of supporters, and while much of the fan ire was directed towards the lack of promotion and relegation, it also centred on something larger. Football clubs are no longer community assets, they are businesses and businesses that existed to make money, nothing else. These super-rich owners, with little historical connection to the areas they had invested in were pressing ahead with controversial plans without consulting the local people it was set to impact and they didn’t seem to care, sound familiar?
What Football Can Learn From Real Estate
In a 2019 interview ahead of the launch of their report into public trust, Grosvenor’s
Craig McWilliam shared that he had seen data which showed “people thought the development sector was worse than drug dealers in its effect on local spaces.” Grosvenor’s own research would highlight that just 2% of the public trusted real estate developers and that the biggest driver of distrust was the perception that they only cared about making money. With trust at an all time low, Grosvenor were determined to do something about it and they set about on a range of measures, including working with Built-ID to launch our Give My View platform on their Cundy Street Quarter development. The project delivered a record level of engagement for the estate and since then, the wider industry has continued this shift towards more frequent and meaningful community engagement.
At a fan forum on Thursday night, Arsenal director Josh Kroenke appeared to claim that lockdown restrictions were part of the reason that the ownership had failed in its attempts to engage with fans. The pandemic could have provided a similar excuse to real estate developers, but instead COVID-19 has seen the industry embrace new digital tools and a similar shift in football is definitely in the post. Perhaps it should not come as a surprise that one of the ESL’s harshest critics was Everton, a club that has demonstrated as well as anyone during the pandemic that it understands the importance of fan engagement. Everton’s ‘Blue Family’ campaign to combat social isolation has made over 25,000 welfare calls and delivered over 14,000 emergency food parcels to local families over the last year, and it is a team that has always had a reputation for being a family club.
At its worst, there are more parallels between the development industry and the ESL story than we might care to mention, but at our best we can lead the way and show how to bridge a seemingly impossible trust gap. There is still work to be done, but real estate has been on a transformational journey over the last couple of years, and football has an opportunity to do something similar; only time will tell if it will.