We are witnessing a time in which football is moving away from its original sources and beginnings, when football clubs, its staff, players, and supporters were united members of a community. Football clubs are nowadays moving further and further away from their most loyal supporters, and they try to exploit them to the fullest. So, many fans decided to take matters into their hands and started setting up their own clubs organized to uphold democratic values and put supporters in the first place.
There are many different forms of fan ownership and many examples of fan-owned clubs all over the world. In this article I will not write about fan-owned clubs such as Barcelona, Benfica, Boca Juniors or most of the clubs in German Bundesliga (where fan ownership is the rule, and members hold at least a 51% stake in the club as a non-profit, democratic entity, while investors can own not more than 49%). I will write about fan-owned clubs that were directly formed by their supporters, and their story started from the lowest rank of their national leagues.
So, for the purpose of this blog I will analyze online communication of two fan-owned clubs from England – AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester – and two fan-owned clubs from my home country Croatia – NK Varteks and MNK Futsal Dinamo. Due to the lack of space, the article will be divided into a two parts. But, before the analysis, few words about why fan ownership is a growing trend in the football world.
Why fan ownership?
Being a member and owner of a fan-owned club has significant emotional and personal benefits. When you are one of many owners with equal rights, the excitement and involvement in club’s functioning is much greater. Supporters-members feel like they own their club and are part of it.
Especially in a non-professional fan-owned clubs, members volunteer, give their time and skills to their club. Shortly, fan-owned clubs are in the hands of people who love and care about them, and every decision they make is for the benefit of the club, not for the benefit of its more or less wealthy owner who may not have the best interest of the club at heart.
The support for fan ownership is really growing, especially in England, which has a long tradition of private ownership of football clubs. Fan ownership is a real alternative to private „corporative“ model of running a football club in modern times.
AFC Wimbledon is a professional English football club established by Wimbledon F.C. supporters in 2002. After the relocation of their original club, founded in 1889, from southwest London to the Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, and after changing its visual identity and name to the Milton Keynes Dons, the vast majority of Wimbledon supporters proclaimed the „death of their club“. They didn’t want to erase the identity and 104-years old proud tradition of their club (in which Wimbledon FC biggest success was winning the FA Cup in 1988). So, they decided to found their own club on democratical principles.
AFC Wimbledon started its journey from the beginning – ninth rank of the English football – and since its founding, 13 years ago, the club was pretty successful. AFC Wimbledon is currently playing in the fourth tier of the English football being part of the professional Football League. And they are close to securing the playoffs for the third division of English Football.
The vast majority of the controlling stake of the club is under the Dons Trus, a supporters group which is pledged to retain at least 75% control of the ownership. The club is very involved in its local community. Wimbledon’s average home attendance has never gone under 2,500 supporters, and in the last five years, it has never gone under the 4,000 people.
AFC Wimbledon have an official website which is suitable for a mobile version. They have the option to connect with the Dons playerHD on which you can find highlights from the games, interviews with the players, listen to games alive and lots of other options for only £4.49 per month. You can also subscribe to their newsletter and receive the latest Dons news to email.
On the official website, you can also find all the latest news, latest results and fixtures for all age categories and detailed information about them. People can access the webshop, there is information about sponsors (the biggest sponsor of AFC Wimbledon is „Sports Interactive“, a creative studio that developed popular game „Football Manager“), information about tickets or how to travel to their games, and lots of other useful statistics and information which every club that cares about its fans should have.
During two weeks of my analysis, Dons were most active on Twitter. In 14 days, from 7th to 21st of February, Dons had 245 tweets or 17.5 per day. Of course, they were most active during the two match days of the senior team and one game of youth team when Wimbledon U18 played against Chelsea FC U18 in Youth FA Cup. During those three match days, they had 39.3 tweets per day, 24 of which were live tweets of the game. On the pre-match day, Dons had 15.5 tweets per day, and on the post match day only 5 tweets per day. On the between match days, they had 8.5 tweets per day.
Most of the tweets (not including live streaming tweets), about 75% of them, were news from the club, match reports (all of the senior, youth or women), statements before and after the game, representation of players, interviews, information about tickets, their sponsors, etc. But, what is interesting, other 25% of tweets were retweets from other Twitter users what is a pretty significant percentage, and it states the fact that Wimbledon is a fan-owned club which tries to be involved in its community and communicates with their supporters.
When talking about the interaction with their fans on Facebook, they „liked“ most of the comments that gave support before and after the match even though I have found one comment that states „Forza Wimbledon from Zagreb“ (my home town) which was not given a „like“ :). Also, in some occasions, the Wimbledon’s official Facebook site answers to the question of their followers which is a good practice, but they don’t have the option to send them a message on Facebook, which, in my opinion, is not such a good thing for a fan owned club. What is commendable is that they create special events for the following games.
When talking about Instagram, AFC Wimbledon had 15 pictures in two weeks of analysis, all of them also published on Twitter and Facebook, which is slightly more than 1 per day, and on Youtube channel, they had 14 videos.
FC United of Manchester
FC United of Manchester is an English semi-professional football club founded in 2005 by supporters of Manchester United F.C. who opposed the controversial takeover of their club by American businessman Malcolm Glazer. Just like supporters of AFC Wimbledon, they formed their democratically guided club in which vote of every member values the same. The club has more than four thousand members all over the world, and they are, of course, the biggest value of the club.
FC United is currently playing in the sixth tier of English football which is not a part of professional Football League (which is consisted of first four ranks). After the very good start and securing the promotion to the upper level in the first three season of the existence they had to struggle for seven years to escape from the difficult seventh tier of English football. Currently, they are playing their firsts season in Vanarama National League North (sixth rank), and they are situated in the 18th place with four points above the relegation zone.
The year 2015 was the biggest in United’s short but proud history. Not only did they finally escape the seventh tier, but the members of the club, with support from the local government and donations from all around the world, built their own 4,400 capacity stadium named Broadhurst Park worth £6.5 million. The opening game was a friendly match against Benfica B, on 29 May, on the 47th anniversary of Manchester United’s victory over Benfica in the 1968 European Cup Finals.
FC United of Manchester doesn’t have a website that is suitable for a mobile version. The official website contains a lot of information about all FCUM’s teams (seniors, reserves, youth, academy and women’s team), and what I think is an excellent practice, pictures of all of senior and reserves players.
Also what I think is great about FCUM website are detailed information about how to travel to Broadhurst Park by train, tram, bicycle, car or foot; information about access for people with disabilities (and Broadhurst Park has excellent facilities for them, as they say), information about tickets for home and away supporters and where they can listen and watch highlights of the game if they miss it.
FC United’s website also has a „Community“ section where they show how much they are involved in the City of Manchester’s local community. In the „Our Club“ section, visitors can find lots of information about the club. There is also a section for an online shop, sponsorship and, for this topic most important, media.
FC United of Manchester has its non-profit online radio station which provides live coverage of every FC United fixture home and away, brings news, views and interviews across the club, promotes the non-league football, and they are, as they say, obsessive about music. On FCUM.TV on Vime.com visitors can find lots of highlights and goals from their matches.
When talking about communication on social media platforms, FC United has the most followers on Facebook – for a non-professional club remarkable 858,1 k of them! More than some Premiership clubs such as Crystal Palace (856,5 k), Stoke City (733,1 k), Norwich (716,3 k), West Bromwich Albion (649,5 k), Watford (255,7 k) and Bournemouth (241 k). On Twitter, FCUM has 64,6 k followers and on Youtube Channel 1,9 k followers. They also have two Instagram profiles whose description say they are official but are not verified as an official, so I didn’t consider them in this analysis.
What is interesting, even though they have a remarkable number of followers on Facebook they had only two (2) posts in the analyzed time (from 7th to 21st February 2015)! And even before that period, they were not active on Facebook on a daily basis. It is a huge waste not to take advantage for promotion and communication with such a big amount of followers. FC United is globally more popular than Wimbledon, simply because the Manchester United FC is the one of the biggest football brands in history, while former Wimbledon FC, and current Milton Keynes Dons, are not so popular in the global football community. So, as I said, it is a real shame not to take advantage of that kind of promotional value.
Just like AFC Wimbledon, FC United is most active on Twitter, and just like a lot of things in the club, the account is run by volunteers.
During the two weeks of my analysis United of Manchester played four games and, unfortunately for their fans, they lost all of them with a crushing goal difference 3-16. Because FC United had more matches than Wimbledon during my analysis, it’s not surprising that they had a lot more tweets during those two weeks. United had 395 or 28.2 tweets per day. They were most active during match days when they had 78.5 tweets per day, 50 of which were live text streaming. On the pre-match days, FCUM had 9.75 tweets per day, on the post-match days 4.25 and on non-match days 15,6 tweets per day.
When talking about non-live stream tweets, most of them (65%) were information about games, news from the club and statements of players and stuff. But FC United also had 35% of tweets that were retweets from their supporters, FCUM Radio or some other non-official page which tweets about United of Manchester. In lots of occasions, they retweeted a post from their fans and after every game, even though they lost with big goal differences, they thanked their fans for the loyal support during all 90 minutes of the match. In this category, we can say that United of Manchester is very active in the two-way communication with their supporters and members.
— FC United Manchester (@FCUnitedMcr) February 20, 2016
— FC United Manchester (@FCUnitedMcr) February 13, 2016
Both clubs, AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester, have showed that they communicate well on the Internet during my analysis, from 7th to 21st February 2016. Even though they maybe don’t have the most modern design of websites, they are full of content and very useful for their supporters, members and lots of outside visitors who can find detailed information about both clubs, information about tickets, how to travel to their stadium, where they can listen to the games, etc.
What I have concluded, AFC Wimbledon is more consistent in communication with their followers on social networks, while FC United of Manchester is very active on Twitter, especially in a two-way communication, but they unreasonably ignore Facebook on which FCUM has more than 858 k followers!
In the second part of this analysis, I will analyze the online communication of two Croatian fan-owned clubs, NK Varteks from Varaždin and MNK Futsal Dinamo from Zagreb, and I will let you know what is the difference in communication between them and two popular English clubs, AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester.