Is the model of socios doomed to disappear?


Clubs that belong to their supporters. Even if it’s much more complex than that and there are certain fantasies surrounding this status, socio clubs have certain particularities that make them, in a way, democratic institutions and where supporters have their say. . At a time when more and more formations are bought in Europe and where fans sometimes feel a little excluded or even despised by the owners, some are resisting. In Spain, there are four: Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, ​​Osasuna and Athletic Club. And this, while in the 90s, justice forced all clubs to convert to SAD, professional sports limited companies, SASPs in French. A legal status that will ultimately have done a lot of harm to Spanish clubs, but that’s another subject…

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What are the characteristics of these clubs of socios? To sum up, they are institutions in which supporters vote for their president, and must be kept informed and consulted at all times of any progress made by the club. The fans even have the power, as we have seen at Barça, to dismiss the management in place, and they have many benefits in terms of ticketing, derivative products, access to events etc… Even if this can smile, on paper, they are non-profit associations. These clubs also benefit from certain tax advantages. However, more and more Spanish specialists and journalists believe that this model is beginning to harm the clubs in question, particularly in terms of competitiveness on the European scene. Effectively, the clubs of socios cannot, for example, open up their shareholding to the arrival of capital from elsewhere. They are therefore entirely dependent on the income that they themselves generate.

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The solution to all problems?

There is therefore no shareholder to reinject money, whether to have more room for maneuver on the transfer window, or even to fill the holes in times of crisis, such as during the covid. Barça or Real can only rely on traditional sources of income, such as TV rights, the sale of players or ticketing, among others, to budget for their season. At the same time, abroad, more and more clubs are going into the hands of extremely wealthy investors, like Manchester City, Chelsea or Paris Saint-Germain, among others, and therefore do not have this problem. A very powerful and dominating time in terms of attractiveness and purchasing power, the two Spanish ogres are now struggling to match the amounts that the clubs mentioned above can pay, not to mention the salaries that they can offer. Of course, this is not the only reason, since there is also this financial fair play of La Liga to take into account, but this status as a club of socios therefore partly prevents Catalans and Merengues from rising to the height of others.

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Schemes exist to generate additional income, as FC Barcelona did with its famous levers last summer, but they involve parting with club assets in exchange. For many observers the solution would be to transform these clubs into SAD. For Barça, some economists even explain that it would be the miracle solution, and that the recent problems with the registration of players would have been avoided. A track publicly dismissed by Joan Laporta, who is rather reactionary to changing the identity and history of his club, but which makes sense to other Barça leaders, thus raising a serious internal debate. And anyway, when you deny something publicly, it’s because there’s always a part of reality behind it… In the past, Florentino Pérez has already mentioned this theme, as if he had already sensed what was coming. was going to happen. He had, however, at the beginning of the 2010s, confirmed that a move to SAD was not on the agenda. The deal could change, however, even if it would be a rather unpopular decision.

The socios hold on to their history

It must be said that the Barcelona and Madrid socios, like those of Osasuna and Athletic, are attached to their history. For them, their unique and prestigious side, in addition to the advantages conferred by being a socio, is far too precious. It is out of the question to become “like the others”. An opening of the shareholding or even an arrival on the stock market would have sacred consequences on the identity of the club. The socios, for example, do not want Americans or Asians to take over the club and be able to do whatever they want with it. We can understand them since in Spain, foreign investments have all turned into a fiasco, and three of the last four in the ranking belong to foreign groups, with Peter Lim’s Valencia as the best – or worst in this case – example. It should also be noted that in Spain, this race for competitiveness against the English in particular, and the supporters do not care a bit. It’s more a fad of the media or authorities, while the average supporter does not necessarily tend to watch what is happening far from the Spanish borders as long as his club is doing well in the league and is better than his rivals.

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The socios have no desire to cede control of their club to a majority shareholder who could have total power of action. Even if it must be said that, in the case of Barça and Real Madrid, we have mainly spoken of minority shareholders, but who would still have a certain decision-making capacity. Another point to note already mentioned above: the fact that with this model, the socios are aware of everything that happens in the club. The management is required to present them with all the financial results of the club, to consult them as soon as they want to set up something new, the big changes are submitted to their vote, etc. Transparency is very important to them. This does not necessarily prevent drifts, we saw it with Barça de Bartomeu. But it is precisely thanks to their power that the socios were able to kick him out. Otherwise, there is no doubt that he would still be in office. There is no doubt, however, that in the coming weeks, this subject will come up again and again on the table across the Pyrenees…

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