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Open sourcing soccer...one fan at a time

If it works for soccer, why not open source software companies?

I will admit that my life's ambition is to make enough money to buy Arsenal Football Club. I figure it will cost at least $1 billion.

But if I were to take the route that some fans have taken with Ebbsfleet United, a lower-division English soccer club, I could buy them today. I'd just need 14,184,397 others to join with me at Ebbsfleet's rate of $70.50 per member.

The Wall Street Journal reports today on Ebbsfleet's membership scheme, as well as similar efforts throughout Europe, that put the ownership (and fate) of soccer clubs in the hands of the fans:

This month, via a Web site called myfootballclub.co.uk, those soccer fans are slated to take control of the minor-league team in southeast England. Members of the group, including some 1,500 people in the U.S., built up their takeover offer by each pledging $70.50. If the deal goes through as expected, a professional soccer team will be run by an online community for the first time in the history of the sport.

The probable new owners will manage the club, voting online to choose match lineups and buying new players. To help run the team, the fans will be able to view all the matches online and, after the game, receive statistics on how each player has performed. They will also get weekly updates from the team's head coach on how each player is doing during practice.

Oddly enough, part of the reason for fans taking over Ebbsfleet and other clubs is similar to what is driving open source: bloated cost and estrangement from the fans (i.e., customers). Is community the natural reaction to prolonged disdain for the customer?

As in software, however, all that glitters is not gold. For one thing, it sometimes pays to be proprietary (-:

For Mr. Hogeg's soccer team, there have been a few glitches along the way....During a recent match, fans from rival teams went onto the Web site and voted off Shalom's star striker. This cost the team the match. Another problem: Since fans like to stay home and watch the match interactively on their computers, stadium attendance has fallen.

Ah, well. This probably won't be the best way to go about buying Arsenal, and I trust Arsene Wenger absolutely. I'd hate to see an Arsenal squad second-guessed by the likes of me....