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Voting with your feet – how the outcome from the election may impact the sports industry

Posted on 2 July 2024

With the General Election just a matter of days away, we assess the approach that the major parties have taken when it comes to sport in their respective manifestos, and what the potential consequences may be for the future of sport.

Football Governance Bill

The Football Governance Bill was one of the major legislative casualties arising from Rishi Sunak's decision to call the election. Prior to this, the Bill had been making good progress through Parliament with cross-party support.

It therefore comes as no surprise that all three of the main parties have committed to introducing a new independent football regulator, in line with the Bill's proposals. Echoing the proposed legislation's raison d'être, all three of the Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem manifestos outlined plans to give football fans a greater voice in the running of their clubs, whilst the Labour and Conservative manifestos outlined express commitments to prevent the threat of breakaway competitions like the controversial European Super League, which was proposed by a number of teams across Europe (including six from the Premier League) earlier in the last Parliament.

Enhanced regulator?

Labour's manifesto appears to suggest that any new independent regulator for English football (IREF) would be granted wider powers than previously proposed under the Bill. Labour wants to ensure that all clubs "are on a more sustainable footing" and therefore it has pledged to put football fans at the heart of decisions over the future of the game in England.

Thangam Debbonaire, who was the Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in the last Parliament, has said that she would go as far as revisiting the 2021 fan-led review undertaken by former Minister of Sport Dame Tracey Crouch and "look at everything again" – including in the areas that the previous Conservative Administration decided not to pursue. Sir Keir Starmer has also stated that, if Labour is successful in the election, it will be looking at the IREF's backstop powers around financial distributions between the top 5 men's leagues, which is an area that has proven to be particularly controversial in recent months.

Double PE

While the Conservatives' stance on fan representation and breakaway competitions is similar, their manifesto does not appear to say too much more on improving the financial sustainability of clubs or protecting clubs across communities. Instead, there is a focus on access to sport in education, with a two-hour weekly PE mandate for both primary and secondary schools, as well as an increase in UK-wide school competitions to identify the best sporting talents in the country.

Ticket to Number 10?

An additional layer of fan protection proposed by both Labour and the Liberal Democrats focuses on consumer protections against extortionate ticket resales brought about by ticket touting. Labour is looking to combat pricing out of sports fans, while the Lib Dems are seeking to prevent fans from being exploited by implementing the Competition and Markets Authority's recommendations to crack down on illegal ticket resales.

While the Labour manifesto does not provide specifics on a figure, it is likely to introduce a cap on resold tickets for both sports and cultural events (a 10% maximum mark-up having been suggested). This has already seen push-back, with a lobby group for ticket resale platforms saying it would fight regulation all the way.

Grassroots boost

Proposals for grassroots investment has also featured in most parties' manifestos. The Conservatives have pledged to continue their investment in grassroots sports through the Multi-Sport Grassroots Facilities Programme, having invested £320 million between 2021 and 2025. The Labour, Lib Dem and Green Party manifestos also recognise the importance of access to sport at grassroots level and have committed to greater investment. The Green Party, for example, has proposed investing £5 billion to support community sports, arts and culture over the next five years.

The best of the rest – other notable policies

Apart from their position on the Football Governance Bill and investment in grassroots sport, each party has made some unique proposals around the future of sport. Labour's manifesto touches on its ambitions of delivering international sporting events like the Men's UEFA European Football Championship in 2028, while the Conservatives pledge to protect female-only sport by making clear that sex means biological sex in the Equality Act (suggesting that only biological women can take part in female sporting competitions).

The Lib Dems are proposing to expand the list of free-to-air sporting fixtures, providing free coverage of more football matches alongside other sports. From their side, the Greens are looking to grant local authorities the right to invest in professional sports clubs operating in their areas to establish stronger ties between clubs and their communities. They envisage any dividends paid through this investment to be reinvested into public sporting facilities and coaching programmes in the area, further feeding into the cycle of grassroots investment.

Into added time

Given its role in the country's culture and its impact on communities at all levels, it is unsurprising that sport has featured so prominently in the main manifestos in the lead-up to the election. Whilst the anticipated re-introduction of the Football Governance Bill and installation of a new IREF will be the most significant shake up to football governance in a generation, it is clear that this is likely to be just one of several other significant changes and developments that will impact the industry. In particular, given the direction of travel for the sports industry and the growing importance of data and technology both on and off the field, the industry is also likely to be significantly impacted by other potential changes to the data protection and AI regulatory landscape.

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