Business - Written by Denis Hancock on Friday, July 25, 2008 8:31 - 10 Comments
Revisiting MyFootBallClub and the Wisdom of Crowds
Joe Westhead sent me an interesting email awhile ago in relation to the ongoing MyFootballClub experiment (and has an intriguing post on the subject that I’ll come back to later). For those that may have forgotten, MyFootballClub became relatively famous as it sought out 50,000 fans to not only co-own a professional football (soccer in North America) team, but manage it through the “wisdom of crowds” principles. To quote one of the many articles on their plans (wikipedia has a great overview of their history):
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.
It sounded really good – and most commentators particularly focused on the ability to vote on line ups as a key driver of participation. This functionality went live recently, but was hardly a resounding success – less than 2,000 of the over 30,000 members voted on the line ups for some recent games, and the vast majority that did bother to vote elected to let the coach decide. This lack of involvement has led to several articles like this one, which sees it not only a hugely negative development, but as potentially foreshadowing the collapse of the entire experiment. But is it really that bad?
Let’s start with the issue of team selection. When MyFootballClub was launched, numerous sports “experts” thought it would be a massive failure because the “crowd” wouldn’t be knowledgeable enough to select the squad. Now that the option is available, most of the crowd is choosing not to vote – opting rather to let the coach decide. While this is now being spun as a “failure” of the model, might it just represent that the crowd is rational enough to realize that the coach is in a better position to select the squad on a day-to-day basis, and they are happy leaving him to do so (until perhaps he proves himself unworthy?).
Connected to this, articles like the twohundredpercent piece make a quantum leap in logic – given that the majority of participants don’t appear interested in contributing to the day-to-day decision making, it appears they are unlikely to renew again next year. Given that these people did opt to purchase the membership, and many have never engaged in the voting process, isn’t it hard to argue that the ability to vote on everything regularly was the reason they signed up? To use an analogy, if I think people are coming to my hotel for the pool, but few of them use the pool, rather than meaning they’re not going to come back to my hotel, it might just mean that the pool wasn’t the reason they came in the first place.
I can’t say for sure, but I bring this up because it represents a common mistake we see in relation to collaboration – presupposing the reasons why people engage in something, and then declaring it a failure when behavior is actually quite different – when the behavior might just reflect the fact they had different reasons than you initially thought. I’d be very interested in a survey of the membership that asks them why they joined – and what they expect.
Maybe a lot of people are just attracted to the democratized ownership, and the ‘joy’ of co-owning a team rather than having it dominated by one person or a large corporation. And maybe many of these people are happy to let the professionals run the team on a day-to-day basis, but will actually demonstrate the wisdom of crowds in the event things seem to be heading in the wrong direction (i.e. demanding a coaching change, etc.).
I’m not saying these things will happen – I really don’t know, and only time will tell. But we should let this thing play out for awhile before it’s declared dead – and let this crowd prove whether it is truly wise, mad, ambivalent, or otherwise. However, I also don’t want to let MyFootballClub off the hook entirely. To quote Joe’s post:
Online communities, like any organisation, are not fully democratised. Various roles are assumed, such as contributors and leaders, to fully utilise the talents of individuals. The likes of MyFootballClub.co.uk would do well to use the community to discover and exploit the pool of resources available rather than a direct democracy. In football terms, this could have very interesting implications.
This is an important point – there are different ways to leverage a crowdsourcing model that aren’t built on purely democratic principles. Joe talks about the potential to engage part of the membership in the scouting process, similar to the “One for the Birds” contest the St. Louis Cardinals rolled out for their baseball team (I wrote about it here). Might there also be an opportunity to engage parts of the crowd in marketing, mashing up video clips for either entertainment OR game preperation (as Joe also suggests), etc.?
It is notable that approximately 3x more people voted on the uniform designs than the roster selection… which I’m sure few people would expect. MyFootballClub would be well served to seriously think about the best way to engage their community in a variety of different ways, and ideally leveraging all of the web 2.0 tools available to them, rather than just relying on democratic voting process as the differentiator.
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