Four years after it was launched by the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust (AST), Arsenal’s pioneering Fanshare scheme looks set to dissolve.
Praised both in football and political circles as an important step towards empowering Gunners supporters, Fanshare allowed individuals to part buy shares in the club at a time when billionaire owners were snapping up rival clubs left, right and centre. The scheme also giving members a voice at the club’s annual meetings.
A statement from the Fanshare board to its more than 1,800 members explains that Arsenal have withdrawn the funding that they initially put forward to help incubate the scheme and that appeals to Stan Kroenke to reinstate the cash to help with running costs have proved unsuccessful.
Kroenke completed his takeover of Arsenal in April 2011, 8 months after the scheme launched, and the subsequent lack of movement in the share market and paucity of available shares has proved detrimental to its long-term health. Initially Fanshare was heavily promoted by the club, but that support has since waned.
Fanshare remains the third biggest holder of shares in Arsenal, although its 116 are mostly symbolic compared to the 41,596 (66.85% majority holding) held by Kroenke’s KSE UK Inc and the 18.695 (30.04%) owned by Alisher Usmanov’s Red & White Holdings Limited.
Part of the Fanshare statement (full statement here) takes the time to thank the late Danny Fiszman and all those who took the time to invest their cash:
“We are grateful to the previous Board of Arsenal, especially the late Danny Fiszman, for the support given at the Scheme’s inception and it is a shame that we have not been able to take forward this support.
“Whatever happens, I would like to thank you for being part of the Scheme, which received plaudits all around the world for its innovation, and support from the UK Government and the football governing bodies including UEFA, the Premier League and the Football Association.
“We are proud to have created the Scheme and believe that supporter ownership in football clubs has much merit, but obviously, given the significant alteration in the shareholding base of our football club, we have been fighting an increasingly difficult battle.”
There remain a couple of other options for Fanshare which are being explored before a final decision is taken on whether it will dissolve.
One involves freezing the scheme’s assets which could result in members losing part, or even all, of their investment, while another would allow members to donate their existing holdings to the AST so that some shares remain in supporter ownership, albeit outside the control of individuals.
Speaking to the Guardian, Kevin Rye of Supporters Direct, the body that advises supporter groups on setting up trusts, noted:
“As has happened before, the potential positive effects of supporter involvement in the ownership of a football club have been sacrificed because of the particular circumstances at the club in question.
“The type of positive role that fans have played at clubs like Swansea City is something that we believe must become the norm, and we are convinced that this can only happen through proper rules enforced by a proper regulator.”
As an investor myself, it’s very sad that a scheme that puts the supporters at the heart of the club looks likely to fold. We’ll keep you updated on any further developments.