The British-run Web site MyFootballClub announced this morning an agreement in principle to buy a controlling share of the English soccer club Ebbsfleet United.
Will Brooks, a former sports journalist in London and the founder of myfootballclub.co.uk, reports that his business team has agreed to a deal worth an estimated $1.4 million. There is also understood to be a plan in place that will allow for a complete takeover in the future.
The money raised for the deal came entirely from fans who contributed to the Web site via PayPal. The paying members, who Brooks says number more than 20,000, will now have the chance to vote online on everything from starting lineups to uniform design.
Ebbsfleet United plays in England's Blue Square Premier league and currently sits "mid-table" with a record of eight wins, four losses and six draws, placing the side a couple points off a place in the playoffs for promotion into the more prestigious and profitable Football League, or fourth division.
In English soccer, the top teams in each division at the end of a season are promoted to higher divisions for the next season.
Announcing the purchase agreement, Brooks said one of the hopes of the new ownership is to provide the team with the resources necessary to become more competitive.
"We hope that MyFootballClub members and Ebbsfleet United supporters will join forces and make the football club more sustainable and successful," Brooks said.
The deal to take over Ebbsfleet, a club with a long if not particularly glorious history, is due to be paid out over the coming year. For now, the quick cash infusion will be used to build on the roster as the team fights for promotion.
Web site funds will be made available to the club during the January 2008 transfer window — one of two periods each year during which professional soccer players are bought and sold between clubs.
Members who paid approximately $70 each will have a vote on whom among available players should be pursued. And from New Year's on, they'll be able to go on the MyFootballClub's Web site and pick the starting eleven for the club days before each weekend's match.
The manager, Liam Daish, and his assistants have agreed to stay on, though in what is now a more limited role. Daish will now be known as head coach rather than manager, and his responsibilities will no longer include player selection.
The idea, Brooks told ABC News in June, is to let the coach focus on preparing his players for the next match, not deciding who will start and in what place.
"During and after matches, Ebbsfleet supporters often give me their opinion on which players should or shouldn't start games," Daish said. "Now they can have their say."
And their share of the blame.
"It's the supporters' money that finances this club, pays my and the players' wages. So there's a good argument for them having a say in what players they want to see," said Daish, a former Cambridge United player.
Statements from previously existing club brass have been positive. That can change of course, but the sheer volume (no less than 20,000) of registered, paying members — all eligible to vote on every aspect of club management — makes hasty decisions that much more difficult. And if they share Brooks' faith in the "wisdom of crowds," then stability does not appear far off.
Praise for Financial Plan
Dan Jones, partner at Deloitte accounting and editor at the Annual Review of Football Finance, praised the MyFootballClub ownership model.
"Reports of having raised over £700,000 in 11 weeks suggest it is viable too. The Sports Business Group at Deloitte has been following its progress with interest, and we're now looking forward to offering our experience in football finance to assist with advice and guidance during the due diligence process," Jones said in the statement announcing the deal.
The club is currently in the first year of a sponsorship deal with Eurostar, a European train company, which will last another two years. The name Ebbsfleet, adapted in May, refers to a port used by Eurostar. The club had been known as Gravesend & Northfleet F.C. since 1946.
Fan reaction from Kent, where the side plays its home matches at Stonebridge Road, also known as "The Cemetery" or "The Graveyard," has been positive, though limited. The news is still fresh.
For its part, The Ebbsfleet United Supporters' Trust, soccer's more powerful version of a fan club, has given the thumbs up to the deal.
"Being a trust, our members understand the MyFootballClub concept immediately," said chairwoman Jessica McQueen in a statement release by the club. She said her group was looking forward to working with the Web site and its members.
Among those new members, sitting at his desk about 4,000 miles to the west in New York, was Greg Rose, a compliance specialist in the legal department of Merrill Lynch. Rose signed up for MyFootballClub in early May, but had been reluctant to follow through and pitch in his $70. News today of the deal has put him over the top.
"I figured I'd wait until an agreement with a club was worked out," Rose told ABC News. "Now I'll make the deposit. It seemed a little too good to be true at first, but I'll definitely follow the team and hopefully make good decisions. I have enough free time."