by Devon Rowcliffe
This past Saturday, members of the Lake Side Buoys (supporters of the USL PDL’s Victoria Highlanders FC) held their 2011 annual general meeting.
Several decisions were made, including the establishment of the first independent supporters’ trust in North America that will actively promote club ownership by supporters.
Despite being relatively humble in numbers compared their Cascadian MLS brethren, the Lake Side Buoys (LSB) decided to become a more formalized group for the 2012 season.
A group charter was adopted; formal membership will now exist (including swanky member cards); and a small membership donation fee will be collected (at whatever level people feel comfortable paying).
All proceeds will go to the Lake Side Buoys’ new tifo fund.
Additionally, the LSB voted in favour of joining the Independent Supporters’ Council of the USA and Canada (“ISC”).
Assuming that LSB’s membership is approved by other ISC members, the Lake Side Buoys will become the 16th overall member of the ISC, as well as the second supporters’ group of a PDL club to join (Michigan Bucks’ Motor City Supporters were the first), and the third Canadian supporters’ group to gain admission (in addition to the Vancouver Southsiders and Red Patch Boys of Toronto).
Perhaps most interestingly of all, the LSB members temporarily removed their LSB “hats”, and decided that an independent supporters’ trust should be created to represent the 1,500 season ticket holders who will become shareholders/owners of the club.
For background: early last month, Victoria Highlanders owner Alex Campbell Jr. took the unprecedented step of giving majority ownership of the club to Highlanders’ supporters and community football clubs. Campbell voluntarily reduced his stake in the club from 100% down to just 20%, set aside another 20% of the ownership for an “operator” (a future investor), assigned 30% to local football clubs that wish to become involved, and bestowed 30% to club supporters.
The 30% given to club supporters will be owned by the first 1,500 people who purchase Victoria Highlanders season tickets. A season ticket will be considered a one-year “share” of the club, and will include voting rights at the club’s annual general meeting. Additionally, two representatives of the 1,500 supporter-owners will sit on the club’s board of directors.
As a result of this impressive devolution of club power, the Victoria Independent Supporters’ Trust Associated (or “VISTA”) has been created to represent the 1,500 supporter-owners. Once Alex Campbell finalizes the proposed devolution of club ownership, VISTA intends to meet with the club and become the formal representative of the club’s supporter-owners.
Although Portland Timbers supporters have already established an independent supporters’ trust in the form of the 107ist, VISTA will become the first independent supporters’ trust in North America to actively promote the concept of club ownership by supporters.
The group aims to follow in the footsteps of the Dons Trust (AFC Wimbledon) and the Wrexham Supporters Trust (who acquired full ownership of their Conference National club just days ago).
VISTA will be the first independent supporters’ trust in Canada, and the first trust for supporters of a North American club below Major League Soccer.
Affiliate membership with Supporters Direct (an umbrella organisation in the United Kingdom that assists supporters’ trusts) may be sought.
Sales of season tickets look impressive, and seem to have been bolstered by the new ownership structure. Victoria Highlanders have almost sold as many season tickets for the 2012 season as were sold for 2011, and there are still five months remaining until the 2012 season begins.
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