In 2007, a group of fans pooled together enough money to buy a minor league soccer team in England. The website MyFootballClub.co.uk collected money from fans to become owners of the Ebbsfleet United Football Club. Roughly 26,000 people at the time signed up and contributed $70 US each (Source: Wall Street Journal).
Fans would be able to vote on different issues such as selecting a coach, approving player transfers and game day lineups.
After one year, however, the number of owners dropped to roughly 9,000. As of September 2010, there are only 3,500 paying members (Wikipedia). The team has struggled as of late and has dropped down to a sixth tier level of soccer.
This crowd sourcing tactic seemed like a great idea at first. Utilizing the collective intelligence of fans can be a great benefit to a professional sports team, but has its challenges.
From different quotes in a recent BBC article, it appears there were critical factors that led to the drop in ownership members.
Fans appear to have been given false promises and hope regarding the team and dedication of owners. According to Gary Andrews of SoccerLens.com, it took seven months for the Pick the Team option to be offered but needed to be voted on by the owners. The final vote was 265-227 in favor of Team Manager Liam Waish selecting the team rather than the fans. Such a low voter turnout is concerning and makes you wonder if the majority of the owners are even real fans of the club.
“I think we failed to give many members the feeling of ownership and closeness to the club they had hoped for. Perhaps the idea of being part of a takeover and making decisions was more exciting than the reality.” – Will Brooks, MyFC’s founder (has since departed), BBC article
There is a tiredness about the whole MyFootballClub project. I think a lot of people when it first started thought it would have been a large football club – someone like Leeds United. That would have been ridiculously optimistic to take on a football club like that. There’s a lot of frustration that there were larger numbers and between us all we haven’t achieved a little bit more. – Phil Sonsara, voluntary chairman, BBC article
It also appears that not everyone was on board with having so many owners controlling so much. Coaches have enough to deal with when handling players and game plans, let alone a fan community with some power. It’s also tougher to make decisions regarding player transactions when you have to consult a community.
I don’t have the time to sit and write blogs and podcasts or whatever they are. I have a lot on my plate. I’m not going to be sitting in front of a computer six hours a day, answering everyone’s emails. – Liam Daish, Team Manager, BBC article
I honestly felt the club could never progress so long as MyFootballClub was involved. There comes a point when these people need to say this is damaging the football club now. When it comes to transferring players, for example, other clubs don’t always want their details bandied about in the public domain. Decisions have been made in the past that don’t involve the members. They’re swept under the carpet. Nobody’s probably trying to do that in purpose, but it’s the reality of the situation. – Roly Edwards, former director and vice-chairman, BBC article
Today, the club continues to struggle on the field while problems exist with the current ownership system. A site has been launched called FreeMyFC, a community of fans unhappy with the current situation.
In the book Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, Howard Rheingold describes Smart Mobs as a group that behaves intelligently or efficiently because of its exponentially increasing network links. This network enables people to connect to information and others, allowing a form of social coordination (Wikipedia).
Collective intelligence, according to Pierre Levy, is a shared or group intelligence that emerges from the collaboration and competition of many individuals and appears in consensus decision making in bacteria, animals, humans and computer networks.
So can sports fans be considered a smart mob?
Their networks have generated collective intelligence using blogs and other web tools. It’s easy to get online and join in on the conversations about sports and hockey. The community itself is large and encompasses not only fans, but mainstream media individuals, teams and the league itself.
The amount of information speaks for itself with blog sites becoming sources of knowledge and analysis. Fans are continuously helping other fans with questions and debates about various topics take place regularly.
Levy, P. (1994). Collective Intelligence: Mankind’s Emerging World in Cyberspace. Paris.
Rheingold, H. (2002). Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution. Basic Books.