Can Blockchain Give Fans A Meaningful Say In How Soccer Clubs Are Run?

A little over a decade ago, one sports fan came up with the idea to crowdfund the purchase of a soccer club and create an online platform in which fans could vote on tactics, transfers and other club decisions.

It was a long-term vision to bring new life to an ailing club, with subscription fees helping to fund a rise through the leagues.

More than 30,000 people bought into the idea and in February 2008, the consortium known as ‘MyFootballClub’ purchased Ebbsfleet United. Initially, the venture was a success, as Ebbsfleet was saved from financial ruin and co-owners participated in the first ever public vote on a transfer.

But things eventually soured as fans weren’t given the level of control they expected, and subscriber numbers dwindled. Eventually, the club almost collapsed before it was sold on once again.

Instead of initiating a fan-driven revolution, MyFootballClub will never be more than a quirk in the rich history of English soccer. But many of the factors that stimulated its initial popularity still exist.

Paris Saint-Germain’s French forward Kylian Mbappe (R) celebrates with Paris Saint-Germain’s Brazilian forward Neymar after scoring their third goal during the French L1 football match between Nimes and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), on September 1, 2018 at the Costieres stadium in Nimes, southern France. (Photo by Pascal GUYOT / AFP) (Photo credit should read PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images)

Closer to the fans

Clubs were once considered vital community assets, but the globalization and commercialization of soccer has led some fans to feel a disconnect between themselves, the players and the organization.

This is less of an issue in Germany and Spain where most clubs are owned by members who can vote on the election of a President, but in England, Italy and elsewhere, most top-level teams are owned by wealthy individuals with little to no scrutiny.

Malta-based Socios believes it can help restore these links by giving fans a real say in how their club is run using a Blockchain-powered token system.

In its simplest terms, Blockchain is a is a peer-to-peer platform that allows people to communicate and interact without the need for an intermediary. These records can’t be changed, therefore adding trust and validation to environments without a central authority figure.

Socios says its system can give fans the ability to vote on various aspects of a clubs governance, such as who they play in friendlies and which players they should look to sign.

The hope is that this will increase fan engagement and revenues with the ability to offer exclusive experiences, rewards and discounts. Not only that, it will also allow fans further afield to feel as though they are a part of the club, even if they can’t physically attend matches.

PSG and Socios

One of the first clubs to sign up is French champions Paris St-Germain, which will hold the world’s first “Fan Token Offering” (FTO) to give fans voting rights and rewards.

“Socios.com is first and foremost a voting platform for sports fans, and for us, Blockchain was the most practical and eloquent way to unite the need to maintain voting integrity whilst turning voting rights into an ‘ownable’ commodity, in our case a token,” Socios CEO Alexandre Dreyfus tells me.

“Blockchain guarantees the transparency of the votes and creates a legal representation of the digital assets. We are delighted and very proud to have signed Paris Saint-Germain as our first club to work on the evolution of its fan engagement strategy through the Socios.com Blockchain platform.”

Dreyfus says more club partnerships are in the pipeline and that it doesn’t matter whether they are privately owned, a publicly listed company, or owned by fans.

Paris Saint-Germain’s Brazilian forward Neymar controls the ball during the French L1 football match between Nimes and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), on September 1, 2018 at the Costieres stadium in Nimes, southern France. (Photo by Pascal GUYOT / AFP) (Photo credit should read PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images)

“The beauty of Socios.com is that it does not compete with the existing football ecosystem, so it doesn’t really matter whether the club is fan-owned or privately-owned. We don’t require a change to existing revenue streams from merchandise or ticketing systems and we don’t challenge corporate structures, shareholders, rights or retail infrastructures.

“In real term, the soccer business model remains untouched, but the clubs benefit from additional revenue streams that are entirely digital and are connected to the real fan experience, which let’s face it, is the lifeblood of soccer.”

Blockchain in soccer

But at the end of the day (to use a well-trodden soccer cliché), no matter how many tokens PSG distributes to fans, the real power is still in the hands of the club’s owners. Can the system ever be more than a gimmick?

“Yes, of course. The decisions on which the clubs will seek fan input is ultimately up to the clubs themselves, but it’s a way for soccer clubs big and small to engage with their fan bases in an entirely new way. We believe Socios will make fans feel better connected to their favorite teams, and because this is a global, mobile-first platform, a fan will no longer be limited by their physical proximity to their team to exert their influence.”

PSG says it’s just at the start of its ambitions to integrate Blockchain into more areas of the club and Dreyfus believes the application of the technology across soccer will boost transparency and make clubs more efficient.

“I think we’ve only just scratched the surface in terms of other Blockchain applications within soccer,” he says. This year we’ve already seen players being paid in crypto and players bought with Bitcoin. Blockchain also brings an unprecedented level of transparency to a sport which has been dogged by many high-profile scandals over the years.

“The use of digital currencies certainly aligns with the anti-match-fixing initiatives that UEFA introduced last year, and we’ve already seen UEFA deploy a Blockchain-based ticketing system for their Super Cup match between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. Now with our partnership with PSG, it’s pretty fair to say that Blockchain has landed in the soccer world and can only help the sport and teams within it provide a better experience for fans, clubs, organizations and even players.”