With Premier League clubs getting richer and richer each and every year as the league grows in both stature and global appeal through the recent TV deal and increased commercial prospects; life gets tougher and tougher financially for clubs in the lower echelons of the football pyramid right through to grassroots level, where most would say the heart of the game really sits.
As a result both the football clubs and fans themselves are turning to crowdfunding initiatives to help raise additional funds to support various projects both on and off the pitch, with supporters dipping their hands in their own pockets to help aid their club in their time of need.
Crowdfunding is essentially a way of raising finances for a project or venture by asking a large number of people for monetary contributions, most often via the internet. In years gone by and in the majority of cases these projects would have been financed by a few people contributing large amounts but crowdfunding works the other way around. There are four types of crowdfunding, these being; donation, reward, debt and equity, with each offering various benefits but is ultimately dependent on the size of the venture as to which is best suited to use.
Grimsby Town are the latest club to turn to crowdfunding with the Mariners Trust launching the Operation Promotion campaign. They are asking supporters to help boost Paul Hurst’s transfer budget for the forthcoming season, after narrowly missing out on promotion back to the Football League after losing to Bristol Rovers in a penalty shootout at Wembley in the Conference play-off final.
In the days after the final the response from the Grimsby Town fans has been overwhelming, with positivity and a sense of pride instilled back amongst the faithful despite the heartbreaking defeat. With a passionate following of 13,000 supporters at Wembley it was clear to see that everyone felt that this team is onto something good which needs to be sustained and built upon in order to achieve its goals.
The Mariners Trust launched #OperationPromotion on 1st June 2015 with the aim of securing £20,000 from supporter’s donations before the deadline in eight weeks time. The total would also be added to by donations of £5,000 from the Mariners Trust and £20,000 from Lee and Susan Mullen who are Grimsby Town supporting Euromillions winners.
The Operation Promotion crowdfunding initiative worked on both a donation and reward basis in that supporters could simply just donate whatever they could afford to the cause, or part with their money in return for rewards. The rewards that were on offer to contributors included mugs, t-shirts, alternative ground tours, boardroom hospitality, signed shirts and a place as a registered squad player for the season, amongst other rewards.
With most crowdfunding initiatives it is generally expected to take a number of months in order to reach the set target for the venture or project, but not in the Mariners Trust case. In just 24 hours alone the target of £20,000 had been smashed with Mariners fans having raised £25,000 after just day one; an astonishing feat for another club which emphasises the incredible support.
As time goes by more and more rewards are planned to be added to keep the campaign fresh and entice people to keep donating to the cause. With this in mind a new stretch target has been set at £100,000, and after just three days the total was already at £35,000, and continuing to rise. The possibilities are endless for the total amount raised at Grimsby Town, but just think about if clubs higher up the leagues took to crowdfunding initiatives, extraordinary.
With the majority of crowdfunding initiatives within football the money raised goes towards an improvement in facilities, new facilities or to help clubs starve off the threat of being folded. Each aspect offers something that fans can see will make a difference to the club in question and hopefully have instant positive results, although not always.
In the case of Grimsby Town, the money raised for the Operation Promotion transfer budget is being trusted to the Manager Paul Hurst, to use at his discretion. The money could be used to offer players a little more money in contract negotiations, to sign one or two key players or even be used for a transfer fee. Most Grimsby supporters have come to recognise that Hurst generally gets his signings spot on and can pick out the right player needed for the squad, but there is nothing to say that it is guaranteed again this time around.
While the initiative offers great support in the bid for success in the league and to improve the squad ready for another go at gaining promotion to the Football League, there will also be an element of uncertainty. While in most cases fans know exactly what they are supporting with crowdfunding projects for facilities and to starve off closure, Grimsby Town fans are buying into the notion of achieving promotion rather than something concrete and guaranteed.
There may also be some unrest or a backlash from supporters who have contributed should the season not pan out the way it is hoped or if the signings made during the summer and throughout the season are deemed to be flops. Hopefully that won’t be the case though and Grimsby Town are indeed promoted back up to the Football League with the help of the money raised by supporters.
Some previous examples of crowdfunding at other clubs would include Portsmouth FC becoming the largest crowdfunding initiative carried out by a football club in the UK having successfully raised £270,000 in August 2014. The money was used to fund some new academy training facilities which would sit alongside their brand new first team facilities to help aid the development of their squad.
Darlington FC also took to crowdfunding back in January 2012 when they were in dire straits and needed to raise £750,000 to keep the club afloat. Despite their best efforts only enough money was raised to allow the club to continue until the end of the season, before they were taken over and subsequently demoted four leagues and made to play under a new name, Darlington 1883.
Without doubt the most successful crowdfunding project within football came in Spain in November 2012. Real Oviedo called on supporters to buy shares within the club to help save the club from bankruptcy and consequent closure. Supporters from around the world managed to raise £3.2million to save the club, and were even backed by the likes of Santi Cazorla, Juan Mata and Michu, who all started their careers at the club.
It’s clear to see that crowdfunding initiatives can play a huge part within football through supporters pride and passion for their clubs and the willingness to play their part and make a difference. It certainly wouldn’t be too much of a surprise should more and more clubs venture down the crowdfunding route should finances be hard to come by, especially given previous successes with a large fan base.
I’m sure most football fans will also be taking an interest in how Grimsby Town fare throughout the season and whether their dream of Operation Promotion will be successful come the end of the season.