Fans Organize to Buy Teams! Boundaries Melt!

The lines between fans and professionals have never been as clear as one might think. After all, is there anyone who grows up to be a movie director who wasn’t a movie fan? Or a sports coach who didn’t care much about the sport? Not long ago I got into a discussion with someone who’d been reading a lot of critical media approaches and argued (crude oversimplification follows) that the culture industry holds the power while the fans are their oppressed dupes. I asked what happens when fans get hired into the culture industry. Does the fact that they were fans suddenly become irrelevant? Do they turn magically from duped to duper? Or is it all a lot fuzzier that that?

Fuzzy as that boundary’s been, the net is making it fuzzier than ever what with mp3 bloggers getting paid radio gigs and fansite creators getting hired by record companies to run their technology. But here’s a great example of just how darn fuzzy it could get. The BBC reports on a website, MyFootballClub, that has the goal of getting 50,000 fans to register, at which point they’ll be asked to pay £35 each (£1.4m total) so that they can buy their own football team. Members, says the site, “will attempt to guide the club up the leagues, sharing equal ownership and control. Just like a football management game – but for real.” The site’s creator, Will Brooks describes it to the BBC as “a vehicle that will pool fans’ opinions, passion and wealth and turn fantasy football into reality.” He describes watching a team go broke in the 1980s:

“I looked around at the 3,000 fans who had turned up and was left thinking that if everyone chipped in we could buy the club – but then there was no way of mobilising that feeling. The internet changes all that.”

The effort is not spurred only by the chance to play with real people instead of fantasy leagues, it’s also an effort to restore love to a game that the professionals view only in terms of profit:

“I’ve always had the notion of a group of fans putting money into a club and not taking it out – it is a potent force for good as most owners look at clubs as a way of making money.”

“I think some supporters of some big Premiership clubs feel as though they are a little out of touch with football these days.

Apparently the site’s doing pretty well, at least among journalists:

Only a couple of days after being launched with minimal publicity, the scheme has already generated enormous interest on the Internet and Brooks has been fielding calls from journalists as far afield as Spain.

The website has a list of 15 clubs – including Manchester City and Arsenal – which supporters want to buy, though Brooks says it is more likely the money raised will be used to buy a lower league club.

One of the things that makes fandom work so well as a social activity is that for every shared passion, there are also things about which fans disagree. That gives them plenty to discuss. So it’s mighty hard to imagine 50,000 fans actually succeeding in being organized, cooperative, and agreeable enough to make the kinds of decisions that running a team requires without falling into bitter power struggles amongst themselves.

This is a little reminiscent of this effort to involve fans in running a baseball team while making a reality tv show, but far more radical. For all the coverage of the baseball experiment when it launched, there’s been deafening silence on looking at how it went (imagine that), but the relative paucity of posts and comments on the official site here make me wonder if it really succeeded in increasing interest amongst fans as well as media. But then, if they’d OWNED the team…

Comments (1) to “Fans Organize to Buy Teams! Boundaries Melt!”

  1. I’ve registered and hope it’s a non-league side we get, who would really benefit from the cash injection. Please not some team like Leeds United – oops, deducted points for going into administration! The concept is great, but the whole idea still needs a little fine-tuning.