Fans vote for … Nike?

In my favorite case of online fan empowerment, the purchase of soccer team Ebbsfleet United by 28,000+ members of a website organized to buy a team is a done done done deal. The fans will be voting on team selection in March, but they’ve already voted for Nike:

Last week Ebbsfleet announced sportswear manufacturer Nike will manufacture home and away strips from next season after 91.26% of the 13,809 members voted to accept their offer to supply kit and merchandise.

Which just goes to show that fan-ownership by no means means eschewing corporations. [btw, I'm not sure how to read the contradiction in the article between 28000+ owners and just under 14000 members]

I’ve got a couple of slides I use in a presentation to make the point about fan influence — both happy and not so happy — and on the happy slide I wind up with this purchase because I still haven’t found a better exemplar of the trend toward ever greater fan power and influence.

Things like this tend to get a lot of coverage at the outset, but then get forgotten, so I hope we’ll see some analysis in months and years to come about how this whole fan-ownership thing actually pans out. When you’ve got 90% ready to get down with Nike there’s no conflict, but I wonder what will happen when they start getting bitterly divided over things like whether the goalie deserves a second chance…


On a housekeeping note, my apologies for being a slow blogger lately. Blame the flu and the grading. Today I am headed to Norway to (see pop bands and) talk at by:Larm. I am tickled beyond belief to be speaking on the same program as Jello Biafra — I never did like the Dead Kennedys, but if you’d told my punk rock 15 year old self that one day I’d be on the same program as him, I suspect it would have given me years of feeling like I had the future I hoped for ahead of me. Sometimes life makes the most unexpected spirals. I kind of doubt I’ll be blogging from Oslo, but expect to hear all kinds of things that will make it here when I get back.

Online Fans Buy A Team!

Last May I wrote about a UK fansite trying to organize football (that’d be soccer to my American brethren) fans to go beyond armchair coaching and webboard kvetching to collectively purchase a team. Today’s big news is that they did it!

An Internet-based collective of soccer fans from more than 70 countries agreed in principle Tuesday to buy a controlling interest in the lower-league English soccer club.The deal will give them a vote on everything from team lineup selections to which players should be transferred.

The pro club said it was overjoyed by the deal with MyFootballClub, calling it a world first and the start of a new age in soccer club ownership.

“This is a brand new concept, basically a massive trust,” said Roland Edwards, a director and club secretary of Ebbsfleet United in Kent, southern England.

“These individuals have bought the team. They will help run it; they will feel part of it,” he said in a telephone interview.

When I first wrote about this, I framed it as boundaries melting, and I don’t know how else to describe it when the fans become the owners. This is not being a prosumer, produser, or any other cultural studies fandom catch phrase you want to use. It’s a fundamental switch. What potential does this have for our eventual understandings of concepts like “owner” and “fan”?

Single rich fans have been buying teams forever, but groups of fans? One of the central themes of this blog is the shifts in relational and power dynamics between fans and the things and people around whom they rally that the internet enables. This has got to be one of the most striking examples yet.

Football and Politics Mix about as well as Rock and Politics

Evidently there is controversy in Seattle, where 2 members of the Seattle Seahawks went to a Republican fundraiser where they met President Bush, presented him with a Seahawks jersey and declared him “an honorary Seahawk.” As the Seattle Post Intelligence reports:

The Seahawks quarterback and fullback gave the 43rd president a No. 43 jersey with his name on it at a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser for Rep. Dave Reichert at the Hyatt.At the time, Hasselbeck called it a thrill and said it was a win-win, this opportunity to meet the president and get out of a team meeting.

But as soon as he saw the picture of the two players with Bush, Gary Wright, the team’s vice president of administration, said he was concerned about negative reaction.

Maybe in really red Republican states, it would not have been a big deal. But Washington is a blue state, and deep, deep Democratic blue in King County. So objections were raised, and Hasselbeck heard them and read them. He got nasty voice mails, e-mails and text messages.

[...]As a quarterback, he’s used to getting booed. “But this was a whole new level,” he said. “I was very surprised how mean (they were).”

As evidence were these responses to Angelo Bruscas’ blog posting on

“How dare Hasselbeck declare Bush an honorary Seahawk,” wrote one. “Who is Matt speaking for? Bush is no Seahawk. He is the worst president of my lifetime, and I’m almost 60. Shame on you, Matt.”

“To learn that two of the most popular Seahawks are strong (Bush) supporters ruins the season for me and my family,” wrote another.

And Timothy P. wrote: “Just goes to show you that being a great athlete doesn’t make you smart.”

Among the right-wing rebuttals: “Amen! It’s about time that someone broke through the liberal haze in this state. I don’t know about anyone else, but the Seahawks gained another fan and ticket buyer.”

And this: “He’s the president of the United States. You liberals are the nastiest, most hateful people I know. I’m ashamed of Seattle.”

This strongly echoes the discussion I wrote about here regarding AT&T censoring Pearl Jam’s anti-Bush lyrics. It is also, as liberal blog The Carpetbagger Report notes, an odd counter-story to the conservative tirade against the Dixie Chicks (he notes that the conservative blogs who strongly urged burning of Dixie Chicks cds when they said mean things about Bush are now strongly urging liberals to allow conservatives freedom of speech).

At the core of the problem here is that people IDENTIFY with bands and teams, and that identification — that sense of having their very selfhood tied up in this other thing — is central to what makes them fans. So when the singer, the quarterback, the … whatever, says something that goes against something else they strongly identify with (politics being a great example, but not the only one) it creates a lot of dissonance.

For example, I love love love the band The Wrens. They have an odd number of songs that mention guns. They’ve got one song in which their singer seems to be seeking “a faster gun.” I think guns are bad bad things. I’d like to see them off the U.S. streets. When I met them, one of the things I asked was “are you guys like really pro-gun cuz, if you are, I think I have to re-evaluate my affection.” Luckily for me, they said “NO!” But now I guess they’ve lost the NRA lobby.

Bottom line: Of course public figures have the right to express their political attitudes. But they should not be surprised when there is backlash from fans. Shared taste in sports teams, pop music, tv shows, literature, you name it, does not guarantee shared attitudes toward anything else, and if you’re making your living in part by relying on other people’s identification with you and what you do, that is at risk every time you express an opinion. That’s just the way it is.

A Social Network just for Redskins Fans, and iPod Touch Kvetching

So it took a while, but it looks like the big leagues might be catching up to where David Bowie has been for years — giving fans a way to brand themselves as fans with their email addresses.

Perhaps trying to make themselves more relevant, AOL and the Washington Redskins have announced Redskins Connect, located at and powered by AOL. Through this site, Redskins fans can get email @;;;; or, social network profiles, video upload (how is this going to mesh with the NFL’s new restriction on video uploads one wonders?), a photo gallery, video search, chat and a toolbar. All free (one edge over Bowie).

This is a super thing for die-hards, though as with all of these ultra specialized fan social networks, it’s not clear how sustainable all the energy going into creating profiles really is. Still, for the person who strongly identifies with the Redskins, this has got to have serious appeal.

On a totally different topic, I am so disappointed by the iPod Touch. I bought a used 60G iPod a few months ago figuring it would tide me over until the famed full screen model came out and then I would indulge. I woke up yesterday morning ready to whip out that credit card as soon as the announcement was over. Until Jobs got to the part about 16G.


It’s like a bad joke — especially paired with Jobs’s claim that the beauty of the new 160G iPod “classic” (makes me think of failed Coca Cola launches) is that we shouldn’t have to choose which things to put on there and which to omit. Sure the wifi is major cool, but come on, make it fatter and stick a hard drive in there! Guess I’m sticking with what I got. Meanwhile, they’re getting some major bitter backlash from all those Apple fans who bought the iPhone for $599 now that it costs $399 two months later…

Update: According to the BBC, Steve Jobs has issued an apology to early adopters of the iPhone and said they’ll get a $100 rebate. My husband says this is brilliant because so few will take him up on it. I say it’s good organizational crisis management, but isn’t it better not to have a crisis in the first place? Update Update: CNN says it’s a credit toward another Apple purchase. Shame on them.
And in another Update, sports blogger Scott Van Pelt thinks the Redskins social network is “a horrible idea” :

Many of the fans are not that die hard to invest in most of the benefits that this network offers. Buying a jersey, coming to the games, decorating a house or car, sure. Chatting with an email address ending in and downloading photos? I don’t think its that serious.

Sports fans? Your opinion, please?

Oh, the folly of the NFL

Robert Kozinets, who covers brands, marketing, and technoculture on his blog Brandthroposophy has a blog entry called What Does DRM Really Stand For? Whack-a-Mole! in which he says this:

Entertainment executives (most of them, anyways) are still swimming against the tide or hiding their heads in the sand. They’re protecting and locking their properties up. But they can’t win. They are going against the collective intelligence of the crowd, and defying communal imagination and motivation. Even after all these year, entertainment companies haven’t even come close to getting it. When they do, they’ll learn to work with the trends and not against them. That’s going to be an interesting day.

I was interviewed a few days ago by a journalist who is writing about the NFL’s new restrictions on the use of video — people are now only allowed to post 45 seconds of NFL footage, with a link back to, and they can only have it up for 24 hours. More justifiably, they’re not allowed to put ads around NFL footage. My response was very much what Kozinets says here. The strategy, I’m sure, is to drive traffic to and to monopolize the message. Even if they succeed in increasing the traffic, they are not going to be able to control the message, and it’s not in their own interest to do so.

Apparently they acknowledge off the record that they are not going to actually be able to stop people from posting longer footage and keeping it up longer. Whack-a-mole.

Fans are creative folks. They will find new places to put things up. They will put up themselves what has been taken down elsewhere as many times as they need to in order to keep their discussion going.

But more importantly, NFL’s revenue stream comes from many places, including, for instance, lots and lots of sales of goods with team logos. Why do people buy those things? Because they identify with the teams. Even if message-control were possible, nothing that stifles and boxes in discussion is going to enhance identification. If the NFL wants to make more money, they should be “working with the trends and not against them” by enabling fan discussion whenever and wherever fans want to have it.

Furthermore, this really annoys the media since news and other sports sites are included in these new regulations, not just fan sites. Ultimately, the price in making your fans and news venues ticked off and making it harder for them to get into discussion about the games can’t possibly be worth any modest increases in page views they may accrue.

Despite the RIAA’s aggressive filing of lawsuits, illegal downloading has increased since they started doing it. I suspect that many people feel even more righteous in the practice since they now have such good reason to view the RIAA as unethical enemies. Does the NFL really want to be the RIAA of athletics? Yikes.