MyFootballClub and Ebbsfleet United… 20 Months On

I am delighted to be writing to you today about MyFootballClub and Ebbsfleet United, almost 20 months on from one of the most revolutionary moments in soccer history when a web community voted to complete the £600,000 purchase of an English soccer club. As you’re a soccer fan you will no doubt have taken account of this movement at the time, and you may think it random for me to pick this up again now, but I am inspired to explore what lessons we can learn from it now we’re further down the line and to discover what it’s importance will be for the future.

Strangely enough, what is fundamentally most important about MyFootballClub has absolutely nothing to do with soccer! The experiment is of course of continuing interest to soccer fans around the world, hence its relevance here, but its real significance is as an indicator of a vital social trend: the democratization of private enterprise. This process is rooted deep in history, as shall be revealed, and is perfectly accompanied by the rise of social media and visionary interpretations of government 2.0. Maybe this is basic to you, or maybe you haven’t a clue what I’m on about. But stick around because all will me made clear soon…

First I’ll give you a bit of background to MyFootballClub and its specific significance for Ebbsfleet United and soccer generally. Then I’ll move on to talk about the wider influence of a community owned soccer club in this increasingly social world; something a number of newspapers and media companies were smart to pick up on at the time. 20 months down the line seems like an appropriate point for review, so let’s get going as see what more we can learn about soccer, about people and about society.

MyFootballClub: The Management Community

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After launching in April 2o07, the MyFootballClub website rapidly gained 12,000 members to raise a massive £500,000 by 10th August. In all members chose to buy Ebbslfeet and chose NIKE to be the official kit supplier, as well as making decisions on key transfers and finances amongst other things. In doing so they quickly proved that community decision making via online voting was a feasible model for the game of soccer. Whilst critics would have questioned the practicality of such activity, for many people know how inefficient a board room with too many people can be, this experiment proved that the internet was able to bring a new lease of life into soccer amidst a stale rampage of monopolistic, private-billionaire club ownership.

The real attraction for the fans and members was the ability to take the concept of fantasy football and place that in a new reality which worked in practice. The ability to ‘play’ on their computer also seems to have made it resemble soccer management games like Football Manager and Championship Manager. When you combine the fun element of fantasy with the wild passion many people have for football, the results were unsurprisingly incredible. An online community bought a soccer club and drove it towards success beyond its wildest dreams.

Ebbsfleet United: New Found Glory

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ebbsfleet screenshot

After the takeover Ebbsfleet experienced record ticket sales, a victory in the final of the FA Trophy at Wembley, exciting new transfers and live TV coverage of their matches. Now that the club was owned by people from 80 different countries, the media attention paid towards them was naturally massive. The club’s renewed finances combined with this unprecedented publicity paved the way for these magnificent achievements and it became clear that the experiment to launch a successful, crowd-driven soccer club had worked.

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The club now boats a host of sponsors and its website matches its dramatically improved status as a club. Indeed their official site, http://www.ebbsfleetunited.co.uk, can be found amongst the top 1% of all websites on the internet (according to the rankings by Alexa: the web information company run by Amazon). Meanwhile the MyFootballClub website finds itself well inside the top 0.5% of all sites on the internet. Though these stats are not fool-proof, they are just one indicator of the great popularity brought about my this concept of community-powered clubs.

Summary of Media Attention

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“Buying a football team used to be a rich man’s game. Not any more” (The Economist)

“A new era for international sports could be close” (ESPN)

“MyFootballClub members will have a vote on transfers, player selection and all major decisions affecting the club” (BBC)

“The sense that £35 a year effectively buys you the right to behave like a football god is an attractive proposition” (The Daily Telegraph)

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BUT…Has the Novelty Worn Off?

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Given that the club apparently hasn’t achieved any milestones since February 2009, it would only be too easy to answer this question with a big, fat YES. After all, at the time of writing, the club is sitting in 20th position in the league: just one place above the relegation zone! Furthermore, the hyped-up media coverage seems to have died away and the MyFootballClub website traffic ranking has not improved in a long while, despite its initial performance.

And yet, despite all this, it would still be wrong to write MyFootballClub off. There is still plenty of time for Ebbsfleet to pick itself up and the club’s fame will surely act as a platform for its future success. The founders of MyFootballClub undertook a remarkable task and the success they have enjoyed up till now is a testament to their ambition, the proactive nature of the members, the adaptability of soccer as a sport and above all the concept of community-powered business.

It remains to be seen whether Ebbsfleet will work in the long term, but it is certainly a brilliant example of a democratically run club which can be used as a model for all future ventures. But even if another community-run club were to launch, it would not have the same novelty value as Ebbsfleet. As the first and original club of its kind, Ebbsfleet is guaranteed to hold its place in people’s minds and in the soccer history books- its media appeal can be reinvigorated at any moment and any future success may help it to snowball once more with the right publicity.

So to finally answer this question…No! Because it is the original and only community-owned soccer club, with vast intellectual resources for its position and an ability to make further membership money at will, MyFootballClub and Ebbsfleet do have a future even if things have gone quiet for now. 20 months on, that is what we can learn on the soccer front. Now onto the broader lessons of the Ebbsfleet project…

The Future of Crowdfunding – Rooted in History

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coversourcing screenshot

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term crowdfunding, we first need to look at the term crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing, a term coined by the great Jeff Howe who wrote a book of the same name, is basically when a role normally performed by a firm is outsourced to a large, undefined group of people. So the way in which Ebbsfleet United runs its decision making process is a form of crowdsourcing because the huge mass of members are now doing this job. Crowdfunding, then, generally refers to crowdsourcing for raising finance. MyFootballClub raised its money from the community and in doing so leveraged their resources to perform a task which any individual member would not have been able to perform on their own.

We have spent a long time getting to this part of the article, but crowdfunding is the reason that the Ebbsfleet example is so significant. This is NOT news, but the subject is so fascinating that in my opinion it cannot draw enough attention- however far down the line we go. With MyFootballClub, soccer collided with a long-growing social movement in a very positive and productive way and it is this movement which we now need to look into.

In June 2007 the Observer called MyFootballClub “a magnificently chaotic pure democracy” and thus showed just how far we have come since Jean-Jacques Rousseau said in the Social Contract that “no true democracy exists”. What is ironic is that now we may have finally reached the closest thing to a true democracy, it is not with the state but with a private enteprise! The power of the crowd and the movement towards equality of opinion has always existed, but it has taken the internet to really accelerate our development as community-minded beings. Our social nature is always present, but Crowfdfunding has expressed it in a way that was never before possible really. Soccer is just one field in which this can operate, but there are many others too including music  and financial loans.

The extension of our ancient need for community can be found in modern social networks, social bookmarking sites and various other social start up enterprises (all of which are analysed and monitored by the mighty Mashable: the social media guide). This has all been covered many times before, but I hope you are now starting to see that the community-purchase of a soccer club is not just relevant to soccer, but is a legendary indicator of a timeless social movement.

The future of crowdfunding, then, will probably NOT be another community soccer club: Ebbsfleet is fairly safe in that domain for any new club would lack the same novelty appeal and could not boast any originality. I believe we will see whole industries over-turned by the user-generated movement until there is a major, crowdfunded company in all the major sectors. The key is to be the first into your field, so it is perhaps best not to now choose the soccer field!

Crowdfunding is just the product of increasingly connected, social communities- the topic of MyFootballClub was clearly soccer, but this model could easily be replicated in a host of other areas. So 20 months on from the voted purchase of Ebbsfleet we cannot expect anything new to have happend in that industry because it is not likely to again- MyFootballClub has a bright future itself but it is now the social not the soccer lessons which are transferable.

And Finally…

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This article is not intended to be visionary, for I believe the press at the time did a good job of realizing Ebbsfleet’s social and historic significance, but Iam thankful to you for indulging my discussion of this fascinating subject. The pressing need to write this article 20 months on, then, is so that it may serve as a small reminder of crowdfunding potential and a little progress check for the development of soccer. What’s most important, though, is that the social spirit which drives MyFootballClub can be kept alive and applied to a whole range of other industries now and in the future, until the concepts developed yesterday are an absolutely integral part of tomorrow’s world, from the web and beyond.

Have fun,

Soccer Geek

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P.S: In addition to learning about the social movement, please also click here to sign up to my free soccer eCourse where I show you how to use transferable skills to improve your performance.

NB: Here’s a quick list of great, useful links if you’re interested in this side of soccer, MyFootballClub and its wider significance. These blogs habe already covered it well, reglardless of whether you agree with their opinions, so please also pay them a visit. MyFootballClub is no longer news, but having looked at it20 months on from the agreed purchase, it may be worth going back and looking for further info from the time once mor. That’s if I’ve convinced you of it’s significance now!

1) Soccer Lens: http://soccerlens.com/myfootballclub-nice-idea-wont-work/1994/

2) Blue Square: http://soccerword.com/index.php?blog=16&title=myfootballclub_and_ebbsfleet_united&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1

3) Buzz in Football Blog: http://www.buzzinfootballblog.co.uk/my-football-club-buys-51-of-ebbsfleet-united/77

4) MeDiary: http://mediary.wordpress.com/