When it comes to finding the money to survive, let alone thrive, there are plenty of football clubs that struggle on a week-by-week basis. These aren't generally Premier League or Championship outfits, though there are a good few of those whose chairmen would welcome a bit of extra cash. The clubs who really need a financial boost are lower-league sides, going all the way down the football pyramid to the base level of non-league football. These teams lack the luxury of television money, make modest funds from catering and merchandise and, accordingly, rely on their takings at the gate, which are usually enough to cover player wages and little more.
For clubs operating at the levels below the Football League, the role of volunteers is especially vital. Without their supporters, without people willing to give up their time for free, many of them would cease to function altogether. Non-league sides are reliant on their fans in a way which the clubs above them are not, which is perhaps one of the reasons people seem to feel refreshed and enfranchised by non-league football. In the absence of huge sponsorship deals and external revenue streams, however, the financial onus falls on supporters themselves.
On the whole, the people who support small, local clubs understand this. They are willing to give a little extra, because they feel like they are a part of the community. It's difficult for clubs to actually organise additional fundraising, however, with matchday initiatives mixed in their effectiveness. Considering that attendances vary from game to game, the best way to reach as many fans as possible is to launch an online fundraiser. The thing is, it's not always clear how best to go about doing so.
While the vast majority of clubs have their own websites, these are used sporadically by fans. Fundraising appeals can get lost in the deluge of information on social media, so Twitter and Facebook aren't always the most effective platforms, either. There's a space in the market for a dedicated football fundraising site; a site which works directly with clubs and supporters to organise long-running campaigns. Or at least, there was a space in the market, before the arrival of football crowdfunder Tifosy.
Tifosy literally means 'supporters' in Italian, and the premise of the site is to help fans and clubs co-operate to fund specific projects. Clubs from Bradford and Oldham to Bayangol FC in Mongolia and Enfield Town have got on board, asking fans to help improve club infrastructure, finance new equipment and even contribute to the first-team playing budget. Projects listed on the site include the purchase of electronic scoreboards, the renovation of changing rooms and the construction of youth facilities; clubs make their plans transparent, and supporters are invited to contribute however much they see fit. In that sense, Tifosy is encouraging constant dialogue between clubs are their supporters, as well as providing a platform from which clubs can raise the funds necessary to prosper.
If the idea behind Tifosy seems good on paper, it also appears to be working in reality. Some of the fundraisers hosted on the site have been incredibly successful, such as Portsmouth's campaign to finance a new academy, which raised £270,000. The site gives clubs the opportunity to 'reward' fans in return for donations, with official recognition, gifts and the like. It also plays an active part in creating promotional material for campaigns, hence making sure they are both interactive and bold enough to catch the eye.
When you consider that just over €171,000 has been raised through Tifosy in an attempt to kickstart the resurrection of Parma, the potential of the site becomes apparent. In an era when football financing is increasingly opaque, Tifosy is giving fans the opportunity to invest in the things that actually matter. If the site can help a club that's been liquidated to generate the funds for its reformation, then it will have played a crucial part in the rebirth of a sporting community. In the increasingly cutthroat world of modern football, that's an impressive boast to be able to make.
In addition to raising money for clubs and enabling fans to get involved in the process, Tifosy has also hosted more general footballing appeals. So, earlier this year, Serie B launched a crowdfunder through the site to help finance a football pitch for refugees on the Italian island of Lampedusa. It has so far raised €58,000, which will go towards helping to build a community hub on an island which has seen hundreds of people lose their lives trying to reach its shores. Tifosy has harnessed the global power of football fans, and there's huge potential to use that power for good.
With all this in mind, I called up Tifosy CEO and founder Fausto Zanetton to find out more about the future of the site. He told me that, although Tifosy's campaigns have been almost exclusively football-related so far, the plan is to expand into other sports, too. Speaking about Serie B's Lampedusa fundraiser, he was keen to discuss the social positives behind the campaigns that Tifosy facilitates. "With that campaign, football was being used as a uniting force," he said. "The people on Lampedusa are doing something really admirable, and that project allowed them to connect further with refugees."
On top of the campaigns they are currently running, Tifosy also has some major diversification in the pipeline. Fausto told me that the next step for the site is to enable fans to invest in their clubs, by providing them with a platform to purchase shares and bonds. "It will be a first in the industry, in that fans will be actually be able to buy equity and debt," he told me. "That way, fans can get directly involved in their clubs, and potentially have a direct say in the running of the business. For clubs, it's funding which is much cheaper than that which they could get from high-street banks. It's kind of a win-win situation."
It's here that Tifosy could really change the footballing landscape. Not only might it provide an accessible source of revenue for smaller clubs, it could also see them tied more closely to the communities that support them. That should hopefully increase transparency across the board, and could help to make football a more inclusive and democratic process. "We want to connect fans closely to their clubs," Fausto said. "Giving supporters a real stake, a real sense of ownership and representation in the running of things – all of that will be a natural evolution in the years to come."