Have the Glazers Broken the Premier League Fit and Proper Person Rules?
Ripples From Across The Pond...
NBC Sports yesterday reported on the outcome of a compensation claim filed by the Glazer owned Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Local businesses that had been affected by Florida's 2010 Clearwater Horizon oil spill, were entitled to file for compensation, and the Buccs filed for $19.5 million.
In the words of NBC Sports: "The federal appeals court that resolved the issue believes the Buccaneers engaged in creative accounting in order to qualify for payment.".
The Buccs had to prove that the oil spill directly affected their revenue in the year 2010. To do so, they had to demonstrate a % revenue reduction compared to both 2009 and 2011 in a specific three month window. This is the "V-shaped test" referred to in the NBC article. To satisfy this criteria, the Buccs' accounting department performed financial gymnastics the likes of which Olga Korbut would be proud.
An 'NFL Ventures' payment (revenue paid by the league to its teams), was filed within May-July 2011, satisfying the compensation criteria. The only problem was that these payments are typically filed outside of May-July, and around the NFL season later in the calendar year. The only evidence of this filing was from October 2014, after the compensation scheme and qualifying criteria were publicly known. While the Buccs used a "lockout dispute" as justification for the filing amendment, the Federal courts disagreed, and at the end of a lengthy process and multiple appeals, the compensation request has been rejected.
Per the court ruling: "The team relies solely on the affidavit of its controller and repeatedly misrepresents it as recounting a directive from the NFL that teams should book NFL Ventures revenue during the off season.".
Bedtime reading of the court ruling below, for those with Insomnia:
The Glazers are renowned for their financial scavenging. Examples include charging tenant supplements for additional tenants in their trailers beyond the first two. Wrongfully claiming compensation that should go to affected and worthy businesses is just another string to add to their bow. Besides the fact this episode adversely impacts the credibility and perception of the Buccs and their Glazer owners, it poses a very interesting question across the pond for Manchester United supporters.
If the Glazers are prepared to deploy creative, dishonest accounting practices for the Buccs, does this make them a fit and proper person to own and run an English football club?
Them's The Rules...
Fit And Proper?
The Premier League's 'Fit And Proper Person Test' is widely lamented as a meaningless box ticking exercise to provide the thinly veiled perception of ownership suitability. Its rules are open to interpretation, and intentionally so. The Premier League is loathe to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Any international investment is welcomed with open arms, regardless of the questionable ethical practices exhibited by said investors. Although Thaksin Shinawatra was eventually disqualified as Manchester City owner in 2008, his takeover of the club was not prevented.
Richard Barham's "Law In Sport" website has a great synopsis of the "Fit And Proper Person" rules.
Given the recent ruling against the Buccs' compensation claim in Florida, several sections within the rules make for interesting reading. Specifically under the 'Criminal Convictions' section, article (iv) refers to:
"in the reasonable opinion of [the league], he has engaged in conduct outside the United Kingdom that would constitute an offence of the sort described [in (ii) or (iii) above], if such conduct had taken place in the United Kingdom, whether or not such conduct resulted in a Conviction".
Article (ii) referred to above states:
"in respect of any offence involving any act which could reasonably be considered to be dishonest (and, for the avoidance of doubt, irrespective of the actual sentence imposed);".
While the Glazer owned Buccs were not convicted of any wrongdoing in their compensation claim, the findings of the Federal court clearly implied that financial malpractice had taken place in order to fraudulently submit the claim.
It could be argued that articles (ii) and (iv) from the 'Criminal Convictions' section of the Fit And Proper Persons Test apply in this case.
If the FA were to review the case, the rules could arguably be applied to have the Glazer family disqualified as directors or even owners of the club.
Supporter resentment is brewing again at Manchester United following an underwhelming season on the pitch, a fractured dressing room and an incompetent Executive Vice Chairman steering a rudderless ship. United supporters would be forgiven for highlighting the above perceived rule breach with the Premier League and the FA, to try and exact a change in ownership that ultimately failed in 2010. If Manchester United supporters want their club back, there would be worse places to start than here.