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Business - Written by on Friday, July 25, 2008 8:31 - 10 Comments

Denis Hancock
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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Dan Thornton
Jul 25, 2008 9:12

Is this not just the 90:9:1 rule? 1 person will vote every week on team selection. ( people might get involved less. And 90 are content to watch from the sidelines?

Plus I don’t know exactly how the team selection process works, but 30,000 people can’t be at the training ground every day, so they decide to let the ‘power user’ make the ultimate choices. Just the same as Wikipedia admins or forum moderators volunteer to take on a greater role, while the rest of us sit back and interact/consume what’s there?

Dan Thornton
Jul 25, 2008 9:14

Just thought of another point.

I’d expect more people to vote on the uniform because it carries less requirements for expertise = lower barrier to entry.

Just the same as more people will enter a competition for a lower value prize, even if everything else is equal, because they assume there’s more chance of winning.

Jim Walker
Jul 25, 2008 10:35

Clay Shirky uses the power-law distrubtion to explain this seeming failure of the wisdom of the crowed. As Dan says above voting for a uniform costs less in expertise than deciding the weekly lineup. Who in the crowd want to be in the pub after a game and be chided by their peers for making the wrong linup choice.

Jul 25, 2008 10:45

Great comments – Dan, you certainly hit the nail on the head on the ‘power user’ point. I just find it fascinating how people can find that the ‘crowd’ being wise enough to let their appointed expert (who they know have better ‘immediate’ information) select the squad is seen as a negative for the “crowdsourcing” idea.

Jim- thanks for bringing up the power-law distribution, I didn’t think of it when writing the post. For those that might be interested, check out this post from Shirky – an oldie but a goodie:


Jul 29, 2008 8:36

Great post. And spot on comments regarding the voting participation changing according to ease of input, and different motivations for joining

We’ve had great input at A Swarm of Angels on poster designs for example, but less so for more crucial story decisions. This is because it takes more time to evaluate this also, and indeed many participants don’t want to get involved in hardcore story evolution, but will willingly get involved to download and spread finished media.

Nov 11, 2008 14:59


Lots of chat about myfc at the above site, mostly by people who have been banned by myfc for asking too many questions. Make your own minds up….

James Pruett
Feb 11, 2009 4:01

The bigger idea is that the model for ownership is changing. Excessive compensation and reckless risk taking by corporate executives reflects a system that has seperated ownership from control. Shareholder control is key in maintaining social equity and attention to stakeholder interest.

I have authored articles and proposals on this topic. Large buying pools may be very effective across a number of high dollar, high margin asset and investment classes.


Group Buying for Housing…

Feb 20, 2009 11:26

Looks like my leap of logic wasn’t quite so “quantum” after all, doesn’t it?


Goal # 27 – Own a professional sports team (Completed) « The Eighty-Eight
Apr 4, 2010 0:12

[...] More Information: Own A Part of the Team at MyFootballClub Time Article Revisiting MyFootballClub and the Wisdom of the Crowds [...]

Keith Handley
Oct 18, 2010 19:46

Anybody can get a free 30 day trial of the myfootballclub website by going to myfctrial.com

Now available in paperback!
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