Online Fans Buy A Team!

Last May I wrote about a UK fansite trying to organize football (that’d be soccer to my American brethren) fans to go beyond armchair coaching and webboard kvetching to collectively purchase a team. Today’s big news is that they did it!

An Internet-based collective of soccer fans from more than 70 countries agreed in principle Tuesday to buy a controlling interest in the lower-league English soccer club.The deal will give them a vote on everything from team lineup selections to which players should be transferred.

The pro club said it was overjoyed by the deal with MyFootballClub, calling it a world first and the start of a new age in soccer club ownership.

“This is a brand new concept, basically a massive trust,” said Roland Edwards, a director and club secretary of Ebbsfleet United in Kent, southern England.

“These individuals have bought the team. They will help run it; they will feel part of it,” he said in a telephone interview.

When I first wrote about this, I framed it as boundaries melting, and I don’t know how else to describe it when the fans become the owners. This is not being a prosumer, produser, or any other cultural studies fandom catch phrase you want to use. It’s a fundamental switch. What potential does this have for our eventual understandings of concepts like “owner” and “fan”?

Single rich fans have been buying teams forever, but groups of fans? One of the central themes of this blog is the shifts in relational and power dynamics between fans and the things and people around whom they rally that the internet enables. This has got to be one of the most striking examples yet.

Fans as Givers

Following up on my post about charitable fans, here’s a nice article by Merlin Missy posted at Firefox news explaining the natural connections between fandom and altruistic acts toward others:

The truth is, we do have lives. We have jobs and classes and families and pets as well as our fandom-related hobbies. What’s more, because fandom acts as a large, loosely-knit community, we can spread information and gather help with just a quick post or email, and when that particular power is turned towards helping others, we bring out something else the get-a-lifers don’t see: fandom’s unlimited capacity for giving.It’s a natural fit, logically-speaking. Fandom is an entirely volunteer-driven concept. Fanfiction, fanart, fanvids, websites, metatextual discussions and costuming (just to name a few pastimes) are labors of love, performed for the joy of the thing and the people who celebrate them with us. True, people make the jump from fan to professional; there’s not a fanfic writer out there who wouldn’t love to be Peter David or Naomi Novik, if just for a day. For every book published of professional critiques on Joss Whedon’s work, there are at least two hundred fans sitting back from their keyboards shouting, “You missed the crustacean imagery, you moron!” and posting their own essays simply because they want to say something.

Hooray for Charitable Fans!

I’ve been known to rant before about people assuming that others who spend time online being enthusiastic about a TV show can’t possibly also be active forces for good in the world (see the Slashdot reaction to the Jericho fans’ efforts to save the show). Fans are quite capable of doing both, and I got to see a very nice example of it live and in person this weekend.


Fandom-Rocks is a fan site set up by three fans of the TV show Supernatural with the sole aim of organizing the show’s fans to raise money for charity. The show centers on two brothers who are from Lawrence, Kansas. So when they voted on 2 charities to choose as recipients of their first fund drives, they chose one in Lawrence. That the fans have chosen to give money to my community — a place none of them lives — is really moving. On Sunday, Dana Stodgel, one of the 3 site founders, drove from Champaign Illinois to Lawrence (a dreadfully boring drive, let me tell you!) to present the Lawrence Community Shelter with a check for just over $1000 raised by about 70 people in 11 countries (click for a newspaper article that also features a video interview with Dana).

Dana and her two cohorts, Rebecca Mawhinney and Brande Ruiz were inspired by fans of the Joss Whedon shows who’ve raised thousands of dollars for Equality Now, Whedon’s charity of choice. The Supernatural fans wanted their giving to follow the fans’ directive rather than the producers’. Though the Supernatural producers are aware of their efforts, they have not responded (though I’m told they are very nice to their online fans, even inviting bloggers to their set at their expense).

I have known Loring Henderson, who runs this shelter for the homeless, for a couple of years. He is the kind of person who radiates enlightenment. He is calm, centered, grounded, amiable, and phenomenally giving of spirit. I once heard him say that when he was a child he saw a movie where a person was serving food in a soup kitchen and he knew right then and there that was what he wanted to do with his life. He asked me to come along because I had some clue what the heck a fan site was. To see how he shone when he said that out of the blue this ‘fan club’ had contacted him to say they were donating such a large sum was a beautiful beautiful thing. And it will be even more beautiful when he puts it to good use.

I just met Dana this weekend. She’s got a degree in Civil Engineering and works in IT at the University of Illinois. She seemed great. Here she is with Loring, who bought a nice new shirt for the occasion:


Fandom Rocks fans have voted on the recipients of the next round of fund raising to come, and the Lawrence Humane Society is one of the winners. My cat, Lola, who spent her early kittenhood there, and I thank them in advance.

Lola the Comfortable

I think it would be really cool if someday, Dana and the others expanded their wonderfully-named site so that any group of fans could raise money through it for the charity of their choice. But if they stick with Supernatural fans, that’s pretty awesome too.

See here for a story about boxing fans organizing for charity.

Fans as Watchdogs

As has been much covered in the last week, AT&T censored anti-Bush lyrics, blanking them out of their webcast of a Pearl Jam concert. Pearl Jam responded with a message on their official site pointing this out and connecting it to the need for net neutrality. They also encouraged fans who knew of any other incidents to come forward. I’m not sure if it was there or elsewhere, but fans did come forward, and AT&T has since apologized for this pattern of eliminating anti-Bush lyrics in webcasts:

In response to fans who claimed that the audio silencing of Vedder’s sung remarks about Bush at Lollapalooza were not unique in the history of AT&T’s Blue Room live webcasts, an AT&T spokeswoman on Friday said: “It’s not our intent to edit political comments in webcasts on the Unfortunately, it has happened in the past in a handful of cases. We have taken steps to ensure that it won’t happen again.”

The statement from spokeswoman Tiffany Nels did not specify what those steps were, nor did it mention what performers were involved.

One fan who contacted The Times Friday said AT&T’s Blue Room webcast bleeped the sound during performances by the Flaming Lips and the John Butler Trio at the Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee in June.

A public forum on Butler’s website,, includes a discussion among fans about several audio gaps during a spoken introduction to the song “Gov Did Nothin’,” which included references critical of the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina.

A representative for the Flaming Lips said the band has received reports from fans of some corruption of the webcast of its Bonnaroo set but added that the band had not been able to review the specifics as of Friday for this story and would not comment.

WIthout getting into whether or not I believe it’s a rogue censor gone commando or company policy at some level (duh), there are a few things worth noting. One is the power of putting fans in the role of corporate watchdog. As I’ve mentioned on this blog many times, this is yet another close parallel between fandom and political communication on the net. When you have thousands of fans paying attention, and you explicitly ask them to bring things to light, things come to light that might not otherwise.

But the other thing worth noting is that Pearl Jam fans were far from united in seeing what happened here as a bad thing. Pearl Jam encouraged discussion on their message board, and they’ve gotten it — the thread has over 300 posts and nearly 10,000 views. Some people think it’s an outrage, but there are also plenty of people arguing that Pearl Jam should keep politics out of things since some of their fans are Republicans who support Bush (an argument I’ve heard a lot concerning R.E.M.), that they are blathering idiots who don’t understand what the First Amendment does and doesn’t cover, and — most surprising to me — that net neutrality is a bad thing since, they say, those companies bear the brunt of the expenses of making the internet work. Aside from what I see as misunderstandings about net neutrality in this discussion (and also I’m sure some legitimate honest disagreement about what’s fair and right), there is also a sense in many of the posts that if you make deals with big corporations, this is the price you pay and you’ve got no right or recourse to complain.

To me, this is a good argument for net neutrality, but it is also a good argument for ensuring that communication on the internet does not end up in the hands of a small number of corporations, whether the net is neutral or not. I’ve often argued that bands need to have, own, and USE their own domain rather than putting all their eggs in MySpace’s basket. I think this makes clear the need for independent webcasters and the like as well. I realize that’s much harder than a band website, but the idea that some corporate hack gets to decide what bands can say and what fans get to hear, is unacceptable.

At any rate, fans had best keep up the watchdog job.

Fans vs Pranksters

I’m sure you’ve all been breathlessly following the Spice Girls reunion news (to say nothing of the nonstop drama of Posh and that husband of hers moving to LA), but maybe you missed this little blip:

The five-member skank-power band has asked fans to vote online to decide which city will be added to their 14-date world tour and promised they would play wherever got the most nominations; however, they probably weren’t banking on the fact that a huge number of Spice Girl haters would get in on the fun, nominating them to invade the war-torn city in Iraq.

To their credit, they say Baghdad is in the running and if it’s a top vote getter, they’ll go there. Of course, they may have to play acoustically given the electricity issues there, and I’m not sure it’s right to inflict them on a country already so devastated, but on the other hand, setting cattiness aside, the good people of Baghdad deserve some fun, years and years of fun, and if this happens and brings them a little bit of it, then the pranksters will have done more good than they meant to.

It does raise the issue of how to manage online voting in ways that get fans involved without feeding the antifans. There’ve been a lot of efforts to solicit fan input on everything from where to play, to which songs to play, to which songs to be on records, and, oh yeah, which character to kick off the TV show. The things that seem to work best at excluding antifans involve small barriers to participation – a $1 annual fee or registration. But those things exclude fans too.

Speaking of which has everyone been following the DailyKos (free to post) vs Bill O’Reilly ($5 to post) drama? I will steer clear but if you care at all about the tensions between the top down right wing media and political machine vs the bottom up online leftie grassroots, it’s a doozie.

Update: No Iraq for the Spice Girls, Toronto got more votes. Or so they say. Interestingly, this article attributes the Iraq votes to a fan-movement in Iraq rather than to antifans.