Football fans often lament they are now priced out of going to Premier League matches, making them feel ever-more disconnected from the clubs they support.
In response, some point to Germany, where clubs are obliged to ensure their members hold a majority of voting rights, as a better example.
However one company is trying to bring fans closer to their clubs in a different way: crowdfunding, or as they dub it, ‘fanfunding’.
Tifosy was launched in 2014 by former investment banker Fausto Zanetton alongside Chelsea and Italy veteran Gianluca Vialli.
“I specialised in raising capital for sports clubs, so I had an understanding of the ecosystem the clubs were active in and I saw it was difficult for them to raise money,” Zanetton says.
Football clubs were “very late to digital”, according to Zanetton, with Manchester United becoming the first club with a Twitter account back in 2013. However, once football clubs had established an online presence, they didn't find it difficult to build up digital audiences thanks to their brand and vast popularity.
“I thought the internet is a great tool to engage, but I also thought potentially a great tool to raise funding and run projects,” he adds.
In 2015 Zanetton left his job at Morgan Stanley and ran his first pilot with Portsmouth FC.
“It was a rewards-driven campaign, not an investment campaign, but Kickstarter and Indiegogo style. We raised money from 35 countries from 5,000 people,” he says.
Tifosy has already worked with 18 football clubs in total including Stevenage, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Bradford, Enfield Town and Oldham Athletic. Unsurprisingly, given both founders are Italian, they have also run campaigns for Parma Calcio 1913, Carpi FC 1909 and VVV-Venlo.
“Luckily, through my previous job I had quite a good network,” Zanetton says.
“There are always tangible outcomes. At Parma it helped fund a club museum, at Fulham it was a memorial statue, and at Bradford it was new changing rooms and an LED screen for the scoreboard. So it is very tangible. Fans and investors look back at a campaign and see the results of the money they put in,” he adds.
The company now has its FCA licence here in the UK, making it the only authorised sports crowdfunding platform in the country. By letting fans invest in equity and mini bonds, Tifosy essentially allows sports clubs to act like banks – giving investors a 4% cash return or 8% in credit to spend in tickets and merchandise at the club.
“You earn money as an investor, but at the same time you help to do something that’s important for your club and community like a new training centre, or stadium improvements,” Zanetton adds.
Tifosy is itself crowdfunded, and has managed to already beat its target of £1 million during a (still ongoing) crowdfunding campaign, which is raising cash in return for 10% of the business.
Zanetton says the next step for Tifosy is to expand into different sports markets, including rugby, basketball, motor racing and cricket. They also plan to expand to new geographies within Europe, specifically Spain, Germany and France.