Tag Archives: MyFootballClub

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.

Ebbsfleet United: Members Disappear, Club Failing, No-One Shocked

Ebbsfleet United

Well, no-one saw this coming: Ebbsfleet United, the “world’s first web community owned club”, has lost most of its community in its second year of operation and the club is spiralling towards disaster on and off the field.

It’s hard to say just how unsurprising this is. Eighteen months ago, we noted that the bubble had burst, with interest from members on being involved with the MyFootballClub website declining dramatically.

The loss in membership was clear by February this year, as 23,000 members did not renew from their initial investment (a puppy isn’t just for Christmas, chaps), leaving just 9,000 paying their dues of £35 annually.

The club’s budget was slashed, and Ebbsfleet now sit second from bottom in the Blue Square Premier, with just nine points from eighteen games.

Still, the venture has substantially boosted the profile of the football journalist Will Brooks who started the whole thing.

Now Brooks, as he told the Independent’s Steve Tongue, has come up with a new plan to save the club: asking people to pay more. “We are working on a new model where fewer members pay more. For example, 3,000 members paying £10 a month could sustain the club,” he said.

So, the club only has 9,000 increasingly frustrated folks left as members, yet Brooks thinks a third of them will be willing to almost triple their investment and keep doing so to save Brook’s model, which was flawed from the start?

One hopes that in looking at this experiment, observers are able to distinguish it from anything to do with real community-owned clubs who have actual sustainable business plans involving supporters who have a long-lasting connection to their team.

How should I cast my MyFC vote?

MyFC takeoverHave you voted yet? MyFootballClub members, the 27,000+ strong English collective on the verge of purchasing English non-league team Ebbsfleet United, today received that question via email (I am a member myself).

We were told that:

If not, you have until tomorrow (Wednesday 23 January) at midday (UK time) to vote on whether to approve the deal to purchase a 75% stake in Ebbsfleet United. There is also a second vote on whether to enable Liam Daish to carry out any plans he has for the January transfer window.

I hope to post a longer analysis of where MyFC stands right now in a day or two after the decision is reached, but for now, I’d like to point to one positive take on the purchase, and one negative response.

1. The Independent’s Nick Harris (who has been a MyFC member since August, though this is not revealed in the piece) waxes on the commitment shown by some MyFC members:

Yet even before MyFC’s legion of disparate fans has actually bought Ebbsfleet, many have gone to extraordinary lengths – literal and metaphorical – to show support to a club most had not previously heard of. Josh Friedman, a 34-year-old lawyer from Boston known as “Friejose” on myfootballclub. co.uk forums, has already made three trips across the Atlantic for matches. He flew to England at the weekend to see Ebbsfleet play Histon. It was postponed. “No matter,” he said yesterday. “There’ll be other games.”

Harris continues by saying that the most contentious issue between the “old” fans and the new owners has been resolved: the matter of whether the manager should pick the team.

Arguably the most contentious issue in the MyFC project is the members’ right to pick the team. It caused friction with long-standing fans in particular, wary of newcomers with no knowledge of the club demanding control of who plays at left-back and whether two or three up front is the way to go. Animosity has subsided as old fans and new get acquainted.

So how will fans choose the team? Harris quotes Will Brooks, who has headed the MyFC project:

So how will it work, this team selection by 27,000 bosses? Will Brooks expects it to begin in March, after members have spent time studying the detailed ProZone stats that will be available on every player, and watched regular games – or highlights on the website. Members will vote on formation, then “drag and drop” players into place, with the majority view implemented.

Daish, 39, a self-confessed “old school” manager, has every right to shudder at the prospect, but he was relaxed yesterday in telling The Independent that he is taking a “suck it and see” approach. “But, ultimately, team selection will be the members’ choice, that’s part of the deal,” he added, insisting that “properly informed decisions” would be the key. “Hopefully, it will work out.”

Harris does get to the financial aspect of the deal, including the stadium and possible redevelopment, at the end of the article:

A minority have made public their “no” vote on the grounds that MyFC is a “flawed model” and the £635,000 Ebbsfleet buyout is poor value. Most of the cash will go to creditors, including the board, in return for 75 per cent of the shares. MyFC will not own the stadium, although there is a guaranteed 18-year lease at peppercorn rent on the current ground, or training ground. The club are also losing between £26,000 and 28,000 a month. On the flip side, many clubs from League Two downwards lose that much money, and have bigger debt, and would have cost £1m or more to buy. “If we had 200,000 members and £5m in the kitty, we’d have had more choice,” Brooks said. “But this, I honestly believe, is the best deal, and a good one.”

2. Long-time critics of MyFC, such as Ian at 200percent, looked through the takeover proposal sent to members before the vote and he argues it’s rather too short on clarity and actual detail:

It is a most peculiar read, coming across as being more like an advertising pamphlet than giving any real information to MyFC members to enable to them make up their own minds on whether to vote in favour of or against the proposal to buy the controlling share in Ebbsfleet United. The opening section confirms that MyFC are to buy a 75% share in the club, and explains that the legal firm DLA Piper have carried out due diligence and created documents and, somewhat confusingly (given that they name the legal firm) an anonymous accountancy firm to carry out due financial diligence. They also state that they are unable, for legal reasons, to publish the results of the due diligences in full. [..]

Next, it’s onto the sales pitch. What is noticeably missing from the “plus points” listed to MyFC members is what the benefits or potential benefits are to existing supporters of Ebbsfleet United. We see a lot about how good it will be for “the club” (ie, the new and existing owners) and how good it will be for the local area (the club sponsors, Eurostar, aren’t mentioned by name, but they must be thrilled with all the news coverage an area that they have recently poured millions of pounds into is now getting). There are also a couple of interesting references to Ebbsfleet’s tatty but homely Stonebridge Road stadium. In one breath, it is described as “small, but [with] bags of character”, and that it “can apparently be fairly easily upgraded to league standard if the club is promoted” (almost all Conference grounds are practically League standard, by the way – a rash of clubs didn’t get promoted from it in the 1980s and 1990s after falling foul of the Football League’s regulations and the Conference reacted to this by tightening its own rules so much that, for a while, you had to have a better ground to get into the Conference than you needed to get into the League), but in the next it talks loftily about “the fact that the local area is being re-developed means that there is a good prospect that a new stadium will be built for the club, free of charge”.

“There is a good prospect that a new stadium will be built for the club, free of charge”? I thought that this was poor, impoverished Ebbsfleet, with no cash, small crowds and desperate enough to try anything to keep themselves alive. What is becoming apparent is that there is more to this than had originally met the eye. There is a lot of talk about “regeneration”, “opportunity” and, of course, “highly confidential”. There’s a lot of talk about property, generally. Interpret that as you choose.

Myself, I am a little bemused and confused by some of the wording in the full statement 200percent quotes from, having read through it. I don’t think I’m particularly dense — but frankly, I feel like I need a lawyer to help me parse through it so I can cast my vote confidently.

My feeling is that this speaks to a serious problem this project has — it takes an awful lot of commitment and trust in the people running this to feel confident in this takeover being for the good of the members, the existing fans, and the club. I don’t have that confidence, and so I’ll be voting no to the takeover.

What’s your view?