MyFootballClub is NOT a Good Model of Customer Relationship Management

I throw up a little in my mouth every time I hear fans of football clubs described as customers, as the relationship is so much more than that, yet there can in fact be benefits for fans in working with clubs on expectations of good  “customer” service. After all, we do pump huge amounts of money into their businesses, and yet fans are often taken for granted. Getting treated like a customer is a step-up from the attitude some football clubs have had to their fans over the years, especially in England.

One key avenue for businesses to do this is through what is called Social Customer Relationship Management (CRM, and don’t worry, I had to Wikipedia that) using the technology of new media. We’ve been big proponents here of football teams using outlets like Twitter to engage fans, as it can have considerable benefits for everyone in connecting clubs to their communities at low cost.

So when I stumbled upon a blog post on CustomerThink — apparently “a global online community of business leaders striving to create profitable customer-centric enterprises” — I was interested to see football clubs at the centre of Kristian Gotsch’s “11 reasons why sports clubs should take the lead in Social CRM”.

The first example he cites, sadly, is an awful example of “Social Customer Relationship Management”: Ebbsfleet United, best known as the club that became the victim of the MyFootballClub experiment as “The world’s first web community owned club”.

Assuming that clubs and leagues integrate their social media activities with their overall CRM strategies it could not be long before sports clubs – instead of being late adopters of CRM – stand out as thought leaders.

In the past years several sports clubs and leagues have taken steps in the area of social media. These initiatives range from clubs setting up online forums or using existing network tools to connect with fans to the other extreme of for example Ebbsfleet United, where fans own the club!

Although the adoption of social media in sports is still in its early stages (as it is in most industries) a range of industry specific factors – or accelerators – within the world of sports leads me to repeat the claim about the sports industry’s potential future leadership role in relation to successful (social) CRM.

Ebbsfleet United? Yes, a clever entrepreneur did put together a business model that saw “fans” buy the club two years ago. A savvy PR push by founder, former journalist Will Brooks, got momentum going as fans signed up at MyFootballClub.co.uk to pay and be a part of the takeover of Ebbsfleet.

The worldwide community of “fans” who came together typified the belief that boundaries and locality no long matter; a fan is a fan is a customer whereever he or she is. As the CustomerThink blog goes on to say:

Clubs are going international. The good old assumption that a certain geographical area is the (potential) fan base of a club has been disrupted. This is primarily due to advances in technology – both in terms of more widespread traditional technology as well as development of new technology. At every major sport club today one of the key focus areas is thus also looking beyond its own area and even its own country to connect with fans and the race is on for who gets the biggest piece of the pie first. This dramatic shift in focus by clubs in their marketing and sales strategies will only accelerate the clubs [sic] focus on social media as well.

Ebbsfleet were supposed to be the definitive proof of this, a sports team owned by a web fanbase without geographic restriction. But they have only served to prove the limitations of online social media, and remind us that clubs are still grounded in their locality first and foremost for their primary and essential fanbase, whatever the technology available for social media.

We first commented on the “bubble bursting” for Ebbsfleet just a little more than a month after the takeover, as discord about the entire purpose of the club broke out. Then, on the first year anniversary of the takeover, we learned that a staggering 23,000 of the 32,000 members had not renewed for a second year of membership.The club’s playing budget was slashed, and poor results have followed, with Ebbsfleet in a very precarious position in the Blue Square Premier league table.

A year on again, and 4,200 of Ebbsfleet’s remaining 8,500 members are up for renewal this Friday. How many will stay on? MyFC had all the web gurus in the world running a very impressive website for their members, connecting them in numerous innovative ways from video to active forums, but it hasn’t been enough.

Instead of Ebbsfleet’s disastrous approach, we’d suggest CustomerThink looks at how Women’s Professional Soccer teams in the United States or Sheffield Wednesday in the UK have at low cost used social media to get fans who are already invested in their “products” (if we must) more involved using social media.

13 thoughts on “MyFootballClub is NOT a Good Model of Customer Relationship Management

  1. Joe W

    I’ve always been against the way MyFootballClub has gone about things – they had a great opportunity and in my opinion went the wrong way about it.

    In fact, the Wikinomics blog (July 2008) even noted my thoughts on the matter:
    http://www.wikinomics.com/blog/index.php/2008/07/25/revisiting-myfootballclub-and-the-wisdom-of-crowds/

    “Online communities, like any organisation, are not fully democratised. Various roles are assumed, such as contributors and leaders, to fully utilise the talents of individuals. The likes of MyFootballClub.co.uk would do well to use the community to discover and exploit the pool of resources available rather than a direct democracy. In football terms, this could have very interesting implications.”

  2. KT

    People have short attention spans.

    Either it’s a case of actually participating in the running of a club being not quite as attractive or easy as many fans think it appears from the couch, or the particular and unique way Ebbsfleet Utd. was actually being run by those people (by virtue of the very nature of the beast – football management by teleconference, basically) was simply too frustrating.

    I don’t know.

    I do believe that many of those who long for a chance to really run their favorite club should be careful what they wish for.

    And, yes, I’m with you, Tom, on there being better uses of social media, and WPS does a good job of it.

  3. HankH

    I joined My Football Club from the very start and was one of those who never renewed my membership. People outside of England made up nearly a third of the membership, yet many of us outside of England felt we were marginalized and ignored. Case in point was board was put together of my football club members, and not one hailed from outside England. Many international members asked, begged and pleaded that at least one seat on the board be reserved for someone outside of England, to no avail. It was the beginning of the end for me and many others who reside outside England who hoped to make this work.
    A large portion of members were ignored and marginalized, I hope the message board goes public someday so that everyone can see how quickly a group that was fun and enthusiastic, went to insults and bull$hit.
    I think a lot of lessons could be learned from this venture, customer service or experience being at the top of that.

  4. MrTuktoyaktuk

    I’m a MYFC current member from Detroit. The major problem with the project was the wildly differing expectations, from a to z on everything, by everybody. Add in the poor design of the online communication (not a criticism, just a reflection), not a surprise that the forums activity tended to sharpen differences instead of unifying participants.

    At this point, maybe through attrition or through political struggle or both, expectations have been reined in somewhat. The financial crisis in MYFC, EUFC and lower league English football in general is demanding some creative thinking and some teamwork to see it through. IMO yesterday’s MYFC/EUFC management and fan open forum (streamed live on the internet via the BBC Kent website, I listened to the whole thing) was one of the best examples of how this project could be a step above the typical fan and club relationship.

    As for my own expectations, I fully expected that the people closest to the club geographically and historically would play the leading role in MYFC. In fact the relative failure to engage mass participation in MYFC by people in Gravesend and in Kent should get more attention. MYFC has drawn a lot of attention to EUFC and to Conference Football that wouldn’t be there otherwise so I don’t want to make it completely locally focused.

    After yesterday’s forum I felt both encouraged and discouraged at the same time. Encouraged because I got the sense there is a real passion by everyone to make this work. Discouraged because based on the information presented, I cannot see how we will have enough financial support to continue.

  5. Woody

    Poor results? What planet are you on?

    Ebbsfleet have won 7 of their last 10 league games, Magno Vieira was January Conference Player of the Month!

    Ok so you commented on the ‘bubble bursting’ within a month of MyFootballClub purchasing the club but TWO YEARS on, MyFC are still here – rather wobbly yes, but many directors of old ilk don’t last this long!

    Our situation isn’t great but what football club can say they are in a great financial place? Man United? No. Liverpool? No. Not even Chelsea. And the likes of Chester and Pompey….

    I’ve been a member of MyFootballClub since the start and continue to be, witnessed them triumph at Wembley, braved the cold to watch the lads at Gateshead, Barrow and York.

    I’ve not always agreed with everything that’s been decided but I’m a part of it, I get to vote and I have my say.

    To HankH, you say the board was put together of my football club members and not one hailed from outside England. Those people were VOTED in by the members – it’s a democracy!

    Plus If you were still a member, you would know that a current member of the Society Board hails from the US and the newest member of the Board is Swedish….

    Up the Fleet!

  6. Tom Dunmore Post author

    If 17th place with a -22 goal differential (the joint third worst in the league) isn’t the definition of ‘poor results’, I don’t know what is. Not to mention all 7 teams below Ebbsfleet have played at least two games less.

    A good run recently, yes. A good season so far? No.

  7. HankH

    “To HankH, you say the board was put together of my football club members and not one hailed from outside England. Those people were VOTED in by the members – it’s a democracy!”

    Woody, don’t tell me about democracy, because we beat you redcoats and introduced it to the rest of the world. A true democracy doesn’t ignore the pleas of the minorities involved. Your majority rules and we English own this place, ruined it for many, like me. Where are all your lads now? I am interested in rejoining since hearing the news that two “outsiders” actually have a say in the on goings.

  8. Woody

    LOL, 17th place, -22 goal difference is a poor season, I never denied that. But 7 out of the last 10 is a definition of ‘good results’, not ‘bad results’! Ok, ‘good results’ recently then!

    People can argue that games in hand are better but some would say points in the bag are better – it remains to be seen of course whether the clubs below the Fleet will win their games in hand and catch up.

    HankH, not sure what you mean saying the pleas of the minorities were ignored? How would you propose that it work, that the minorities be appeased against the wishes of the majority? No one was ignored, everyone had a say and everyone could/can vote – as with any vote, whatever got the most votes won.

    Things are by no means all rosy at MyFootballClub – far from it – as with all football clubs these days, financially it’s a huuuge struggle, especially with membership numbers down, but those remaining are doing what they can to make this work. We’re passionate about it. Deluded? Maybe, but we want the club to survive and succeed.

    If you’re interested and want to hear from the “horse’s mouth” as it were on how things are with the club, check out the live forum that took place last week and which can be heard on the BBC website : http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/teams/e/ebbsfleet/8521402.stm

  9. HankH

    “HankH, not sure what you mean saying the pleas of the minorities were ignored? How would you propose that it work, that the minorities be appeased against the wishes of the majority? No one was ignored, everyone had a say and everyone could/can vote – as with any vote, whatever got the most votes won.”

    Since you have trouble reading posts, I will copy the text from my first post.

    “Many international members asked, begged and pleaded that at least one seat on the board be reserved for someone outside of England, to no avail”

    Its funny that even now you would rather argue with me and tell me that my idea is bad. It is this kind of arrogance that has plagued My Football Club. All the internationals wanted was just one spot on the board, just one out of 8.

  10. Woody

    Did I say your idea was bad? No, I asked how you proposed it would work, that the minority’s vote went ahead instead of the majority’s vote?

    Yes, many internationals wanted a place on the board reserved just for an overseas member but MORE members voted for this not to happen, that everyone should get the same chance for a place on the board, regardless of where they lived or where they came from. You thought this was wrong, thousands disagreed.

    There were some good overseas board candidates, I voted for two internationals (US and Canadian) myself but they didn’t get the votes.

    MyFC is still very much committed to their overseas members, of the last 10 new members who have joined, 3 are from the US, one from Slovenia (rest UK).

    Anyway, I was only on here to point out that the original article here wasn’t quite correct, I’m not on a recruitment drive or to try to get old members back.

    There were and are many things wrong about MyFootballClub but there were/are also many things right about it. We just need to get the balance right!

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  12. Keith Handley

    2 of the current 6 on the Myfootballclub board live in the USA. In the last year we also had board members from Holland, Portugal and Sweden.

    Anybody can now get a free 30 day trial of MyFC by going to myfctrial.com

    Since Dec 09, MyFC is totally volunteer run and we take customer service very importantly now and try and turn around member queries the same day.