When I first became involved with the CF10 Trust it was during the euphoric days of the start of last season. Cardiff Blues had won three on the bounce and looked set fair to have the season we all believed they were capable of. My main concerns were around the challenge of setting up a supporters trust when times on the field were good, as experience indicated that most trusts had been established in order to combat a perceived threat. Looking back I now believe that David and the other founding members might just give Mystic Meg a run for her money given the turbulent eighteen months we have seen!
However, I’m not intending to write about the trials and tribulations of Cardiff Blues, but about why I feel it is important that Cardiff Blues and Welsh rugby as a whole embraces the supporters trust as a concept. My interest started with how supporters trusts have been involved in challenging the ownership of football clubs. The role that fans have played in resurrecting Portsmouth, Newport and Swansea and in challenging ownership at Blackpool and Charlton has demonstrated that sport is as much about those who attend as those who pay the wages. These movements have sought to challenge power, take control and return a sport to those that historically have enabled the development of the clubs in the first place.
I was intrigued why this was less common in rugby and could find very few examples of supporters trusts across rugby that weren’t supporters clubs in all but name. As a season ticket holder at Cardiff Blues the only sway I had over decisions at the top was to stop paying for my season ticket or join the Cardiff Athletic Club, but I was never quite sure what that meant. CF10 Trust provided an opportunity to get my voice heard, beyond who should play inside centre. I am pleased to see that after initial suspicion there has been a greater acceptance of the relationship between the Trust and the management of Cardiff Blues. There can be no doubt that the canny move of the Trust to seek to start to collect shares in the company focussed minds, but it demonstrates a mature organisation that recognises it needs to engage with its supporter base in order to survive.
We’re great in Wales at pointing out what is wrong with things, particularly rugby. Everyone’s an expert and has the one truth that would unlock a World Cup win and success across every city, town and village in Wales. I’ve been surprised by how some have reacted to the establishment of the Trust. It was always going to incur some displeasure from those that didn’t want a professional side based in Cardiff, but from others it seems to have been more about mocking people for trying to take an interest on a governance level in the side they support.
Why shouldn’t fans of Welsh rugby sides organise themselves to challenge the status quo that has been accepted for too long? The TV deals are the crucial contracts in Welsh rugby and at times I’ve genuinely wondered whether those of us that turn up actually matter. This leads me to believe that the professional rugby structure in Wales desperately needs critical friends. Not people just throwing abuse at the system, but those that recognise it isn’t perfect, that it can get better, but that the top of the pyramid will not achieve unless the foundations are sound. It all comes down to engaging with the structure and not just shouting from the sidelines, often via social media.
The challenge for the Trust will now be to walk the tightrope between representing the views of its membership and the risk of becoming an insider as the management and Board recognise it as a significant representative force. There are a range of issues to focus on, the most crucial of which is the ongoing discussion about the redevelopment of CAP that is so central to the future of professional rugby in the capital.
The Trust also needs to consider how the Cardiff Blues as an entity seeks to create a vision, values and brand that supporters feel part of, whether ticket prices offer value for money and how to rebalance the relationship between the paying fan and media dictated kick off times. We are not customers that will simply be replaced by others, that hasn’t worked. In my optimistic way I would hope that the management can see an opportunity to drive true supporter engagement and become a beacon for this within European rugby. As I’ve said before, the Cardiff Blues need to establish what they are and what makes them unique, true fan engagement is a step on the road.
It’s worth looking to what has happened in football, but at no point do I see the Trust owning the team as has happened in some cases. A fascinating case study comes from the Seattle Sounders, where they have embraced the concept of support engagement to the point where the CEO gets reappointed via a supporter vote! I’m not suggesting this, but isn’t it time the supporters of Welsh rugby we stopped moaning about the decisions of those in charge and started joining movements that put the paying supporter in the driving seat? In answer to this question I have no doubt that in CF10 I trust….