Fan Engagement OR Ownership & Control?

Regular readers of this blog will know that there is a ‘social media, football and fan engagement’ theme to some of our posts. More accurately, this should read ‘social media, football and NO fan engagement’.

While most of the world’s leading football clubs are now active participants in social media, with only a few exceptions, they are using it to broadcast messages AT rather than engage WITH fans. Our recent blog posts on this topic can be found here.

Recent research reported on Football Marketing comes to the same conclusion.

The failure of most clubs to actively engage with their fans on social media (or even to consider it as an option) suggests to us that there is a major chasm emerging between the passionate desire of fans to become more involved in the running of their clubs and the rather arrogant attitude to fan engagement adopted by those in positions of control.

Is a more radical approach required – an approach where social media provides the platform for fans to fully own and control their clubs? With social media use becoming ubiquitous, fan engagement may no longer be enough!

Consider the following:

  • How many clubs do we know where ownership has fallen into the hands of individuals or institutions with no real affinity with the club or its fans? How many clubs have built up unacceptable levels of debt as a consequence of the actions of a few?
  • The concept of fan owned football clubs is not as ‘pie in the sky’ as you might think it is. Wikipedia already publishes an extensive list of ‘professional or semi-professional sports teams owned by fans through either a collective organisation or where the assumption of majority ownership by a small group is prohibited by the club’s constitution’. The list includes many football clubs of various sizes from all over the world sorted by home country. In Germany, for example, ‘all football clubs—except for some historic works teams that are allowed to maintain their company affiliation, such as Volkswagen’s VfL Wolfsburg and Bayer’s Bayer 04 Leverkusen—are required to have at least 51% member ownership’. So there is an alternative to oligarchy ownership.

  • One of the most exciting developments in social media in recent years has been the rapid growth in interest in the concept of ‘crowdsourcing’. This could help to break down barriers to fan ownership of clubs. Again Wikipedia provides a clear definition: ‘Crowd funding is the collective cooperation, attention and trust by people who network and pool their money and other resources together, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations. Crowd funding occurs for any variety of purposes, from disaster relief to citizen journalism to artists seeking support from fans, to political campaigns, to funding a start-up company or small business or creating free software’. So why can football clubs not be funded this way through an online community membership scheme? The Wikipedia reference provides some very interesting examples of crowd funded projects.
  • As well as breaking down barriers to fan ownership, crowdsourcing may also provide a solution for decentralised, democratic fan control. Rather than a decision-making structure where total power lies with a small wealthy elite, in a crowdsourcing model power would lie with the community (or crowd). Mass collaboration, rather than leading to anarchy, will often result in better decision-making building on the collective intelligence of the crowd. This is not as daft as it sounds. Who is the major competitor to Microsoft in computer operating systems?
  • To the best of my knowledge, this is how our Supporters’ Clubs have always been run so why not the clubs themselves? Why does control have to be in the hands of a small number of oligarchs when the collective intelligence of the masses will always be greater than that of the few? Throughout history, oligarchs have relied on tyrannical rule and public servitude for their existence.

  • If you think that the thoughts expressed above would only work in a Fantasy Football League, think again. For the last few years, I have been closely following the fortunes of Ebbsfleet United, the world’s first Internet community owned, controlled and managed football club. You can read their unique story at My Football Club – or better still become an active owner of the club and part of a ‘unique collaborative venture that is changing football across the world
  • What is to stop this happening at a much bigger club? Oligarchs beware!

As usual, comments and feedback more than welcome. Is it time for radical change in OUR ‘beautiful game’?


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