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Meet the Delightful English Soccer Team Looking for American Owners

In the English Premier League, fans rally against foreign ownership. Lewes FC, a tiny, community-owned club in England's south east, will take as many foreign owners as it can get.

Have you always wanted to own a soccer team? Don't have the $100 million needed to buy into MLS? A small English team, Lewes FC, has a solution for you: part ownership for as little as $45. And while fans of Premier League teams continue to fret over foreign ownership, Lewes FC welcomes it. In fact, Lewes has an advertising campaign specifically targeting Americans. It doesn't matter if you've never stood on a terrace under overcast English skies, or so much as had a layover at Heathrow, at Lewes, everybody's welcome.


The idea has its roots in a 2010 financial crisis that saw the club teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, a phenomenon not uncommon in English soccer. Lewes FC, while not a big team—the men's team currently plays in the 7th tier of English soccer (though the women play in the Premier League)—has a rich history, and failure would have meant the disappearance of a beloved community tradition. Founded in 1885, the club has played at the same ground, a place called the Dripping Pan, since 1892. Filled to the rafters, the Dripping Pan holds about 3,000 "Rooks," as the fans call themselves.

Read More: The Soccer Team Run by the People for the People

Rather than see the club disappear, some community members banded together in 2010 to save the club. With an eye toward other community-run teams, like Germany's St. Pauli and Manchester's FC United, they transferred ownership into a Community Benefit Society. Today it operates as a non-profit.

Management "launched the ownership scheme in 2011," explains Kevin Miller, Lewes FC's commercial manager and one of the club's three full-time employees. "The package is 30 pounds, which is the annual membership. It gets you one share in the club. It gives you the right to stand on the board of directors. And there are various things within the town that we've done as well, such as working with small businesses to produce a discount card."

Because of its new status as one of just 40 community-owned clubs in England, it wasn't long before Lewes FC began generating interest outside the region. This interest grew as the little club engaged in a series of outside-of-the-box advertising schemes. For every home game, the club began making posters, which they also sell online. For a 2013 match against the metropolitan police, they used the Banksy image of two male officers kissing. "[It] didn't go down too well to be fair, but there you go," says Miller with a chuckle. The poster generated nationwide attention. It didn't stop there. Since the club's community takeover, it's received write ups in magazines as far away as Brazil and Hong Kong.


The idea to court American ownership was the result of some internet good fortune. On January 30th 2015, a Friday, a club owner took to Reddit's soccer subreddit to explain why he loved Lewes FC. He wrote about the team's history—Lewes's foundation predates Liverpool's and Newcastle's, two much bigger clubs—and made jokes: "we currently have two brothers playing for us with the surname Crabb--allowing the opportunity to chant 'We've got Crabbs! We've got Crabbs!' although this hasn't caught on yet, for some reason." The post has so far generated 174 comments.

The next day, during a match, the club chairman approached Miller wondering why they had a half-dozen American owners sign up in the last 24 hours. Neither knew.

"We found out eventually that this guy put this post up [on Reddit]," remembers Miller, who couldn't recall the author's real name. "By the end of the weekend, we had up to 30 ownerships from the States. I saw the blog responses and they [the commenters] just love it."

After the Reddit success, the club put together its US-focused ownership webpage. Miller speculates the club's stateside allure has to do with the growing popularity of soccer in the US and an MLS ownership model that is "very much franchise based."

But is that the whole reason?

"Lewes is just a little town in East Sussex, but it's also the home of Thomas Paine, who, you know, wrote the Rights of Man and [instigated for] the Declaration of Independence," explains Miller. "I think [Americans] quite like the town and the history and all that kind of thing."


The pitch to potential American owners is heavy on Thomas Paine, but in a sort of playful way that's in line with how the club markets itself elsewhere, like in the posters. It's attracted around 50 American owners so far, which doesn't sound great until you consider Lewes FC has just over 1,000 owners, total.

In other words, the club's marketers have to stay creative to keep the club in the black. To that end, its latest advertising success came in the form of four beach huts along the sidelines at the Dripping Pan.

"We initially started it as an April fool's joke," says Miller, "but we decided to build them, and we sell them on match days. We're the only club in the world that has corporate beach huts."

Tomorrow, the club faces a must-win match in order to stay in the seventh division. One would imagine the Dripping Pan will be full, beach huts and all. Next season, relegation or no, the club plans to live stream its matches so foreign owners can follow along. Until then, the owners will have to settle for following match day text online or visiting in person, which happens on occasion. But even if the owners never catch a game, Miller sees some merit, both practical and philosophical, to simply being involved: "I've emailed [the new owners] and said, 'You can now put on your resume that you're an owner of an English football club,' which goes down well.

"And for, what? $50? That's not bad for a year, and it's a bit of fun!"