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Ever wish you could own your favorite sports team? A growing set of teams are making that possible for fans like you and I. At Fund Wisdom we have insights from years of equity crowdfunding investment offerings. I break down the most successful soccer teams to have raised money through these fund raising platforms, and dive into what level of control the investment can bring.

Some of the biggest, most successful soccer clubs in the world are owned by a small number of wealthy businessmen. Yet a growing number of clubs globally are turning to fans to help fund operations and offer you a chance of ownership. Below are some of the top funding events for pro soccer teams in the US that have leveraged Equity Crowdfunding (Reg CF) platforms. 

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Top Soccer Clubs Raising Equity Crowdfunding

I am a Manchester United fan, a soccer team that plays in the English Premier League, over in the UK. Over the past few years I find myself passionately yelling at the screen as I watch games, questioning the decision making of the owners. With United my disappointment is directed at the Glazer family. I hold onto the hope that someone, with deeper pockets, who cares less about the financial return, and more about winning, takes over.

The Glazers and Manchester United recently opened bidding to allow investment and ownership structure to change. Sir Jim Ratcliffe's Ineos group now controls all football operations at Old Trafford. Around the same time this change happened my friend, Kyle Austin of Beantown Media Ventures, reached out about his investment in a UK based club, East Thurrock Community FC via Fanbaseclub. That got me to dig into our data set to see which soccer teams in the US have sought equity crowdfunding as a path to allow fans to invest in the clubs they love. I also look to uncover what actual power and decision making your money brings to the operations. 

Soccer Team Investment Returns


Soccer, or football outside the US, is the worlds most popular sport. Popularity of the sport in the US has seen steady growth over the years creating impressive windfalls for a set of owners. American Soccer Analysis shows a 592% increase in value, net of operating expense, over 2007 - 2017. There has also recently been headlines made about impressive valuation jumps for Miami FC with Leo Messi's arrival. 

If your goal is financial returns I am not confident these offerings are a great avenue, comparing to software companies that offer high margins tied to new and growing markets. For many though it is about establishing a deeper connection to the club and team, being able to tell the story of impact at social events. 

Barcelona Ownership Model

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FC Barcelona

The biggest club I can think of, that offers a fan owned model, is Spanish giant Barcelona. Barca are not owned by one super-rich billionaire backer. They are owned by 144,000 members paying about €185 annually. In order to become a member applicants must have a familial tie to an existing Barcelona member or serve a probation period paying dues for 3 years without any rights to vote. Membership does not guarantee season tickets, as there can be another wait period after you become a member.

Ownership Benefits: Voting and Power

What Power does my money bring as investor? Will my money allow for me to move where the stadium is located closer to where I live? For all the offerings that seems off the table, but let's explore what is. For Barcelona once you have become an official voting member you can cast your ballot in the club elections. The primary decision you have effect over is who becomes the president of the vaunted institution. The President, and the team that they hire, are making most of the important day to day decisions.

Voting as a member can only be done in person, so a member must be present at Camp Nou when elections are held in order to cast their ballot. Big club decisions are vetted by an annual general assembly, which numbers more than 4,000 longtime members. Big moves, like major infrastructure projects like Espai Barca, are subject to a full referendum. The Espai Barça project is a large-scale infrastructure redevelopment project to improve (and expand) all FC Barcelona's infrastructure including their training facilities, Camp Nou Stadium, Palau Blaugrana, the club's offices as well as the commercial and leisure facilities. At the annual vote if 66 percent of those who vote turn against the president they will be deposed, and the presidential election will be brought forward. 

Jaume Roures, who was the CEO of the media group Mediapro, has said FC Barcelona’s ownership model needs to change,  "what exists now is a model of false ownership for members and the only right he has is to vote every ‘x’ years... then [a president] leaves, and leaves you with a hole of 800 million: that cannot be." A NY Times article wrote by Rory Smith in 2020 also questions the efficacy of this system. Regulation CF offering can be designed in a way that the securities sold have limited rights which preserves many of the important  decision-making power for the wealthiest controlling owners.
 

Ownership Benefits: Tax Breaks

Pro Publica wrote a long piece on the tax breaks that owning an asset like a sports team can bring for the very wealthy.  "When someone buys a business, they’re often able to deduct almost the entire sale price against their income during the ensuing years. That allows them to pay less in taxes. The underlying logic is that the purchase price was composed of assets — buildings, equipment, patents and more — that degrade over time and should be counted as expenses." I am fairly certain none of the equity crowdfunding offerings can allow non-accredited investors to achieve this same break. 

Pros/Cons for the Teams

By raising money through equity crowdfunding Teams can scale brand building and public relations. They can also attain more financial power for capital expenditures like stadiums and signing big names. Negatives include broader reporting requirements mandated by the SEC. K&L Gates Law put out a story about this from a legal point of view. At the end of the article the authors offer to help current team owners interested in leveraging equity crowdfunding to raise money. 

Other Democratically Controlled Clubs

Athletic Bilbao, Osasuna, Real Madrid, as well as the vast majority of clubs in Germany, Turkey and Sweden, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay, are democratically controlled. Not all of the ownership structures are 100% fan owned as Barcelona. 75% of Bayern Munich in Germany is owned by ordinary shareholders, while 25% is owned by private companies: Allianz, Adidas, and Audi.

US Based Clubs Raising Money

Soccer Team

$ Raised (Thousands)

Date of Last Round

# of Investors:

League Played in

Platform Raised on

Country

Oakland Roots

$3,161

Nov 2023

5,420

USL

Wefunder

USA

Detroit City FC

$1,485

Oct 2020

2,708

USL League 2

Wefunder

USA

Aurora FC

$1,000

Dec 2021

3,081

USL W League

Wefunder

USA

Chattanooga FC

$873

Jan 2019

3,256

NPSL

Wefunder

USA

FC Tucson

$236

May 2023

217

USL League Two

StartEngine

USA

PDX FC

$94

Feb 2021

380

USL League Two

Wefunder

USA

Appalachian Football Club

$78

April 2022

217

NPSL

Wefunder

USA

NJ Teamsterz FC

$0

Oct 2020

 

NISA Nation

Wefunder

USA

Not every club has seen success leveraging platforms like Wefunder to raise money. This can be seen with New Jersey Teamsterz. Even with a huge potential market for fans, the funding goal did not appear to have been achieved before removal from the investing portal. I also do not understand why Wefunder has been the dominant player in this market.

I do not see what the equity in each of these clubs offers, and how close they are to the Barcelona model. If enough interest is expressed, I am happy to dive a layer deeper.  

Trophies

Lifting Trophies

Most of my research at Fund Wisdom has been focused on financial returns from equity investments in startup companies and the platforms facilitating these transactions. I recognize that many are likely putting money into sports teams with no care about the financial result. Many care more about the pride and emotion felt in seeing their team lifting trophies along with the deeper connection, even a small percent, ownership can bring. For some, the glory of telling the story of ownership in a winner is enough. 

If you have invested or been part of a team that has raised money through equity funding platforms I am keen to hear from you via comments below or the contact form.

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