Today is the day of reckoning for Ebbsfleet United and MyFootballClub. Membership runs out for all those members who joined during the pre-takeover period, i.e. the 24,000 or so who signed up and paid their £35 between August 2007 and February 19th 2008. The website has been dominated by talk of renewals for months, once it was realised that 24,000 memberships would expire on this date, leaving the club in financial jeapoardy if not enough people renew. This has been reported all over the place – but the underlying reasons for the lack of engagement still seem a bit of a mystery to many.
All the comments I’ve been posting over the last year, about understanding the dynamics of an online community, of using existing tools and research, of enabling members to get involved in an online democracy – they’re still not resolved and I think it’s because Brooks doesn’t live in this sort of ideaspace. (can’t think of a better term). Not his fault, but he needed to open up to Web 2.0 and the different paradigm a long time ago.
There are signs that he may be loosening control, and that his employees are starting to approach the site in a more collaborative spirit. (if only they could learn to hold their temper when posting under an official avatar!). And it’s not a massive job: many of the communication issues could be solved by automation and slight tweaks to the navigation and site structure.
There is also the hope of the new Board, the role of which is still being defined. Originally, the Board elections didn’t take place until the club had been taken over, and communications lines were still flimsy. Over the past year, they have resigned one by one, citing issues such as lack of support from Members, CEO and Operator; only two of the original 7 remain, with another member co-opted to fulfill the legal obligation. So with a fresh election, can we get a board in place that is fully committed to the direct democracy model, a membership that fully supports them, and an Operator who will work with them to fulfill the Society’s aims?
The members themselves are also responsible for some of the problems. A member wrote to me this morning:
“I think the general apathy in the membership to date has also played a role. It’s tough to get things working democratically when hardly anyone is interested in the governance issues. The smaller, more involved membership we’ll have going forward may help with this, but I wouldn’t bet on it making a massive difference. I’ve got some optimism that the polarisation will decrease now that many of the disillusioned will have left. I’m hoping that this will decrease the defensive mentality and allow progress to be made.”
With the change in membership numbers and participation, this may improve – there are certainly plenty of people willing to keep plugging, despite all the problems. As another member said “For £35 it’s too interesting not to stay involved”. My hope is that “renewal”will apply to the Society as well as the individual members subscriptions.