Friday, February 1, 2008

I own part of a football team

I own part of a football team. (LOLZ!) No, I really do! (ROFL!) By now you’ve likely heard about For those who haven’t, here’s the deal: members pay 35 quid, which comes out to around U.S. $20,000 (thanks to the Bush administration), in exchange for one share in a trust that owns a real, live football team.

As of a couple weeks ago, that team is Ebbsfleet United, which currently play in the Conference League. Because I am an now part owner of Ebbsfleet United, I have also learned that the team used to be called Gravesend & Northfleet. However, I could probably not tell you exactly where the team is located. No matter. I paid my 35 quid, I have an equal say! This is democracy in action, or at least poll taxes in action.

After the jump, find out how it works.

The idea of community or supporters ownership of teams is not new. In fact, in the United Kingdom there is a government-sponsored organization called Supporters Trust that “provides advice to trusts on how to organise and acquire a collective shareholding in their clubs on a not-for-profit basis for re-investment.” (I am familiar with Supporters Direct because they helped Exeter City avoid bankruptcy, and the team is still owned by a supporters trust.) There are also higher profile examples of fan-ownership of athletic teams, such as the socios in Barcelona and Real Madrid, and the cheeseheads in Green Bay.

But myfc is different for the obvious reason that, rather than a local community of supporters owning the football team, the Internet allows membership for anyone willing to pony up the cash.

One of the great things about the Internet is that it acts as an aggregator of people with common interests. In other words, myfc was able to bring together over 25,000 members from around the globe, with each individual sharing an interest in owning a lower-tier football team.

At least for the short term, the venture led to a lot of free publicity for Ebbsfleet, which can only enhance the value of a team that was apparently in pretty a dire financial state before the purchase. (For more on the particulars on how myfc works, I recommend checking out the website's faq.)

Once you are "inside" the webpage, two things immediately jump out: First, the fact that the people behind the site have taken a people-powered approach by setting up message boards and a blog-esque system, whereby members can each have their own page to have their proverbial say.

Second, and to me probably my least favorite thing about the site, is that there are plans for a "team selector" whereby members get to choose the squad for each match. There is a healthy debate among the members over whether this feature actually makes sense, given that beyond an Abramovich here or there, owners rarely usurp managers' job of picking who plays.

The big problem is that Ebbsfleet does indeed have a very capable manager. There are just so many intangibles that go into picking a team, especially a relatively thin team at the lower rungs of English football. As perhaps would be expected now that myfc actually now owns Ebbsfleet, the organizers have backed off somewhat from allowing members to actually pick the team.

The team selector function has not gone live yet, but it looks like it will function more as a "suggestion" for manager Liam Daish to take into consideration.

Those who want to keep the team selector function say that it is the reason they joined in the first place.

There other members (I'm one of them) who are in favor of scrapping the idea of team selection all together. I, for one, believe that it's totally inappropriate for any owner to dictate management decisions in this way. It just seems kind of crass to turn ownership into a glorified version of Football Manager.

Whatever the outcome of this debate, one of the more amazing things is the way that myfc has cultivated a true community. As some have argued way more eloquently than I ever could, the power of the Internet is to create truly democratic communities. It is the power to aggregate small amounts of money or interest into movements that are able to accomplish things that were heretofore unimaginable (this is sometimes referred to as crowdsourcing).

In essence, this is why I paid my 35 pounds, because I wanted to be a part of something unique and exciting. There is a pretty high chance that the venture will fall apart after a year or two, because members must re-subscribe each year to remain active, and the novelty of being part owner of a Conference League team might very well wear off. But the fact remains that myfc was able to raise over 500,000 pounds in a short period of time and actually take the reins of a football team. I have been very impressed with the professional way the site is run, which suggests that myfc might be able to sustain itself for the longterm. This is also a model that we're likely to see tried again and again in the coming years. If not sooner.


Bigus Dickus said...

Welcome fellow board member!

Ian said...

Wot, we can't play with 4 strikers on the pitch at one time? Thats no fun!

The Fan's Attic said...

I want you to start interviewing possible successor managers behind the current manager's back and leak it to the tabloids. That'll be awesome.