Football Media

MyFootballClub – and now the balloon finally pops

29/3/08

Fancy owning a football club? It used to be that you needed millions to buy out a club, but then MyFootballClub broke the barriers between big football and the common man and brought club ownership to the Internet for only £35 per year.

The biggest draw – the biggest selling point – was the level of control offered to members. Few people are interested in buying a share in a football club they don’t support – with all due respect, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about Ebbsfleet United FC – but MFC worked around that by offering the illusion of control akin to Football Manager. Owners (us!) were to have a say in tactics, team selection, transfers, kits and what not.

The best part of all this – the best-executed part, that is – was the promotion. Give the fan a chance to select the team for a real game? Real-life football manager – and if you haven’t played the game, grab a copy and waste away a weekend so you can understand the drool-inducing addiction we are talking about.

Many have previously argued (including myself over at Soccerlens and Ian over at 200 percentlinks here) that MyFC was unrealistic in what it promised and impractical in that fans, once they got over the initial excitement, would stop caring.

Apparently, that is exactly what is happening at MyFC.

A memo from Liam Daish (coupled with another article from the MyFC board) politely tells the new ‘owners’ that they cannot pick the team or decide tactics just yet. This comes after over a month of ‘trialling’ the team selector, something that has received a very low response from the members (1 – 1.5%).

To quote Liam Daish:

…with a month of this season left, I’m concerned about going from a standing start to members picking the team straight away. With two games a week, suspensions and niggly, persistent injuries to players like McCarthy and Akinde, I think it’s a very tricky time to introduce our new system.

Some might say it’s a perfect time to trial it, but I do think the opposite is the case. I believe, and I’m drumming into the players, we’re still in the hunt for the play-offs. I’ve also drilled it in to the players that they still have their Wembley shirts to play for. My opinion would be that changing things now could affect mindsets and unsettle things. That said, for the last month or so I have been looking at the team the members are picking each match.

From now on, I want to give you all feedback on the team you pick. I’d also welcome any questions you have, like, ‘why do you pick so-and-so?’ or ‘what are strengths of Woking?’ for example. There must be a million and one questions to ask, and I’ll do my best to answer them. I do see talk on the forums talk of a ‘manager’s choice’ button and similar ideas.

I think the members should decide if they want something like this and I’d feel more comfortable if this was addressed.

To translate – allowing the owners to pick the team will unsettle the squad and we can’t have that happen.

Don’t get me wrong here – in an ideal world all of us would be able to decide, via consensus, the best possible team and tactics to play for our favourite team week in and week out. But this isn’t your ideal world and as Mr Daish so delicately alludes to, the owners don’t know jack about the team.

The problems, as the board identifies them:

The level of interest in the team selector and general discussion on formations, players, tactics etc has been very low. On average, only about 1% to 1.5% of members are using the team selector to pick a team, and far fewer are watching 90 minutes of matches.

It has therefore been very difficult to design a system that will work based on such low results. The resulting teams from these selections have been reasonable, but fairly predictable and not particularly ground breaking.

In addition, an example where Chris McPhee was used at right back against Aldershot was suggested by no one at all. This was a selection that proved very effective against a talented and speedy winger and yet there is no mechanism that allows Daish the sort of flexibility for this sort of selection.

The web team have invested a lot of time and resources into providing full 90 minute match video either free or as low cost Hi resolution but again the number of members watching these matches is very low and there has been very little comment on the matches or the players performance based on these. The Web Team feel uncomfortable forcing team selection on to the club when it’s not clear whether the appetite is there. The Web Team would appreciate feedback from members on how to improve the popularity and use of the team selector and the full 90 minutes match coverage.

Some have argued that the lack of interest has been due to the lack of training reports and other communications about players. Fair enough, but there has been little effort by members in trying to work with what we have got with a view to refining the whole thing based on practical experience. Some have asked for positions to be assigned to players on the selector, but isn’t this what we are supposed to do? Of course we need to get information from the coach, but until we start practising picking the team, does anyone really know exactly what we want from him.

I’m sorry, but what the hell? You didn’t see this coming? You didn’t figure out that watching 90 mins of football for a team you don’t support playing in a league you don’t care about is quite boring? You didn’t figure out that reduced contact with the players meant that the owners would never have the knowledge to pick the team / tactics?

The rest of the article (I’ll reprint it if someone asks, but why waste bits and bytes?) deals with how to cope with this impossible situation, mainly by debating what type of information the coach can provide the owners to help them select the team and whether the owners should ‘defer’ to the manager’s decisions or not.

Bottom line, if this venture survives till next season, I’m almost certain that the owners will end up deferring to the manager’s decisions after realising that they do not know enough to make decisions that are in the best interests of the club and players.

Ok, more extracts:

…Most of all though, we have to be sure that we all, or at least most of us, want to do this and are prepared to spend the time researching the necessary information. It has been said many times but this is not football manager, there are no predefined sets of statistics, we are dealing with real people and their livelihoods depend on it. We have to guarantee that many thousands of us will do the research and make the selection and do so week after week.

It is the opinion of the society board that the level of interest in picking the team in the way it is currently constituted, is not sufficient. 300-400 people is not a crowd and if the proper research hasn’t been done, it isn’t wise either. We feel that imposing this on the coach for one of the most important game in Ebbsfleet’s history would be reckless and if it went badly wrong could threaten the whole idea of fans picking the team in the future, let alone spoil the clubs chances in the match.

We would like to propose that a small group research this whole idea thoroughly and put 2 or 3 options to the membership as a vote with a view to introducing the experiment for the latter pre-season matches or perhaps the new season. We should not be frightened to consider an option that the members team should not be imposed on the coach at all but is instead offered in an advisory capacity. In this scenario it would be interesting and informative for the coach to explain the differences between his selection and ours. Such an approach is particularly relevant if it becomes clear that there aren’t large numbers interested in picking a team.

In addition, Liam Daish has requested that more time is allowed to think this through properly before having to commit to a system that we clearly are not ready for.

I admire the forward-thinking entrepreneurs (I pretend to be part of that group sometimes) who prefer dealing with problems as they arise and not overanalyse an idea, but the flaws in this plan could be seen from a mile away, without the benefit of hindsight or an MBA degree.

If this was just to get ownership of a football club, it worked spectacularly well. In addition, MyFC is a textbook case of how to market your company. On the other hand, if this was intended to be a serious enterprise for community-based club ownership, it had failure written all over it from the start.

Posted by: Ahmed Bilal Posted under: Football Business

Comments:

  • Comment by: BobTheBuilder
    March 30, 2008 @ 4:39

    I think MyFC’s been on a downhill slide for sometime now. You only have to look at the number of members that have voted on important issues recently. There has been a significant decline from two-thirds voting on the Ebbsfleet (in January) to about one fifth voting (in March) on the composition of the new board.

    Is it any wonder only a small number are now trialling the team selection feature? You could argue that they’d already ‘lost’ a third of the membership before ever taking over Ebbsfleet.

    That said, I think a great opportunity has been lost. I don’t think the main attraction to MyFC was the ability for members to pick the team. It was more to be a part of a (global) community, the social networking it promised, and the sense of both belonging to, and being able to influence the direction of a football club.

    I think this is something that has been largely overlooked. Instead, there’s been a concerted push to finalise the team purchase, set up the new board, and get the team selection process in place, as quickly as possible.

    While this has been going on, there was little formal communication, to the membership, on where things were headed. Consequently, I think many members either feel alienated or have simply lost interest.

  • Comment by: Ahmed Bilal
    March 31, 2008 @ 9:41

    Interesting thoughts, thank you for sharing.

    I wonder what common ground you can find between the members. Is it a love for football? There are already other forums and social communities where people have their friends. Is it a love for networking and self-promotion? That aspect, like you said, has sadly been overlooked but then again if they focused on that not many people would join (how many of the members are genuinely interested in football business?).

    Still, they have the audience so if they want to play the networking card and push that side of MyFC then I suppose they can do quite well.

  • [...] members considered a poll on whether to take over team selection from manager Liam Daish or not. At SoccerLens, Ahmed Bilal quoted extensively from the MyFC Web Team’s message to members about the [...]

  • Comment by: Bob The Builder
    April 1, 2008 @ 15:15

    I’m one of the original members and I don’t live in the UK. I originally joined because it seemed a cool idea to be a part owner of a football club. Really I think it was as simple as that for many. In the beginning, I don’t think anyone had great expectations, but for £35 what the hell.

    As things progressed at least some members, like myself, became genuinely interested in the football business. We mistakenly, and perhaps naively, thought we’d actually be involved in it.

    Definitely, for some, the opportunity for self-promotion has been a big thing. This I think has been to the detriment of the venture though.

    On a positive note, I actually believe the current situation could be turned around, but there needs to be some major changes.

    There’s much more I could write and can do so if you’re interested. Let me know.

  • Comment by: Dave Twisleton-Ward
    April 3, 2008 @ 9:57

    Bob is absolutely right. Once the concept of MyFC appeared to be acceptable by both fans and clubs, the biggest challenge was going to be organising and developing the website and team selector. Whilst Will Brooks has done fantastically in the legal and financial arrangements, he’s let the technical side of things slide, embarassing in an age when crowdsourcing, Web 2.0, collaborative projects, and leaderless organisations are well discussed.

    Fortunately, members are starting to realise this and do things for themselves.

  • Comment by: Dave Twisleton-Ward
    April 3, 2008 @ 10:06

    I should add: Too many people expected an application combining Facebook and FM2009 to suddenly appear. To the tecnically minded, it was obvious that this process of developing the website would take a considerable amount of time, and would require more involvement from members, and more openness from the Operator about their development roadmap.

  • Comment by: alexgloc
    May 11, 2008 @ 3:44

    …and some of us UnitedStatesians were happy to join MyFC anyway because we didn’t see any interest in the Supporters Direct-run clubs for foreign owners/members that would have to learn how to be proper supporters. Yes, Will Brooks and company have delivered less than I expected, but then I also fault my expectations – I’ve certainly gotten my US$70 worth.
    The Stonebridge Road folks – for all the understandable upset/concern about internet yahoos like me – were genial hosts, and made sure I enjoyed my two matches there last month. And given what Daish has done on (what has been implied to be) his budget, I’m continuing to stress “own the club” over “pick the team” for as long as he stays.

  • [...] The Arsenal Fan Share scheme is a nice PR move (notice how journalists were quick to call it ‘Barcelona’ style ownership structure without even knowing what Barcelona’s ownership structure looks like), and ultimately the implementation of a modified MyFootballClub scheme on a Premier League club. Remember MyFootballClub? [...]

  • Comment by: Keith Handley
    October 31, 2010 @ 21:07

    If anybody wants a free 30 day trial of myfootballclub, you can get one at myfctrial.com

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