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Building A Sustainable Business Model for a Football Club & How An Independent Regulator Might Utilise Liquidity Ratios To Reward Best Practice

Venue: Birkbeck Main Building, Malet Street

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Roundtable panel:

  • Guy Courtney, Director, Rochdale FC[1]. Guy is a consultant in the digital media sector.
  • Dr Richard Evans, Honorary Research Fellow, Birkbeck Sport Business Centre, Birkbeck, University of London. Richard is a Sport Economist and former FCMA accountant
  • Ian Mather - Director, Cambridge United FC, former club CEO (2019-2022) during which period the club was promoted to the Football League Division 1. A solicitor by profession, Ian has been directly involved in discussions with DCMS (Department of Culture, Media and Sport) in relation to the proposed Independent Regulator alongside other EFL clubs [2].


There is now a consensus that the English football pyramid below the level of the Premier League is characterised by an “… underlying fragility”[3]. Many clubs lead a “hand-to-mouth” existence, barely managing to maintain financial sustainability in a sporting system that incentivises gambling for playing success through over-spending on playing talent. This has the added side-effect that an operating environment where, it becomes extremely difficult to be successful in sporting terms and to simultaneously just break even, serves to deter investors of quality. This leaves clubs facing liquidity problems vulnerable to takeover by a different kind of investor, those of often dubious substance and intention with little consideration of clubs as community institutions of huge cultural and social significance.

This assessment has led the UK government to decide to introduce an independent regulator of the football industry. But what will be the strategy of this new regulator at the micro level? A fundamental challenge for many clubs is the management of cash-flow liquidity and an associated lack of financial resilience. This lack of resilience acts as a deterrent to the creation of a pool of quality investors in football clubs, something that is a necessity for any healthy business sector. One approach to promote financial sustainability is to “…focus on regulating minimum levels of liquidity rather than profitability to mitigate against the risk of insolvency” (Evans, 2023, page 23)[4].

In this roundtable debate a panel of football club directors and academic experts will first analyse the causes of financial “fragility” in English club football with particular reference to liquidity challenges, before assessing the desirability of a potential regulatory intervention to address the problem. Critical questions that will be addressed are: (1) what is the degree of intervention required to provide a level regulatory playing field that allows all clubs to compete fairly without running the risk of financial collapse; and (2) to provide an attractive environment for quality investors to invest in building sustainable business models for clubs, perhaps not even with the intention of making a profit but to simply build a strong community club, but who nevertheless, quite legitimately aspire to at least breaking even on their investment. Creating an environment where high quality investors should find the clubs in the football pyramid attractive to invest in should be a strategic objective of the new regulator. 

[1] Unwin, W. (7th May 2021). Rochdale cling to future hope as their 102-year stay in EFL comes to end. The Guardian.

[2] Walker, C (8th October 2021). “'All we want is a level playing field...' Cambridge United demand tough regulation of football to stop clubs avoiding financial fair play rules as they fight to compete in League One”. Daily Mail.

[3] Department of Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS). Policy paper: A sustainable future - reforming club football governance: consultation response ( 7 September 2023). Command Paper: CP 922. ISBN: 978-1-5286-4343-6. Unique ref: E02944245 09/23. Section 1.2, The Case for Reform, Summary.

[4] Evans, R. (July, 2023). The ‘S-Score’ Of Financial Sustainability For Professional Football Clubs. Birkbeck Sport Business Centre Working Paper Series. Vol.15, 1. For updated version see: Evans, R. (January, 2024). The ‘S-Score’ Of Financial Sustainability For Professional Football Clubs. Journal of Sport Economics.


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