A fan owners perspective
The idea of a ‘fan owned club’ isn’t a new concept.
For a start, every soccer club in Argentina is owned by their members, and as part of Argentinian law, each club is a not for profit organization.
The mighty FC Barcelona has a membership of over 160,000 and a worldwide supporters club movement known as the Confederation of World Penyes.
Each member is allowed one vote in presidential elections and all top-level decisions that affect the running of the club has to be approved by the supporters.
Green Bay Packers are a fan-owned American Football team.
In England, various ‘protest’ clubs have sprung up, with perhaps the two most famous being FC United of Manchester, wholly owned by disaffected Manchester United supporters unhappy with the current ownership model, and AFC Wimbledon, owned by The Dons Trust and formed as a result of the original Wimbledon FC being relocated some 60 miles away in Milton Keynes.
There are many other examples of fan ownership is some way, shape or form, but FC Pinzgau Saalfelden differs from them all quite significantly.
The level of interaction with the board of the club, management team and players is unprecedented.
Yes, other clubs have organised share options as part of club ownership previously, but none will allow active participation in, and influence of key club operational and strategic decisions.
There’s also the opportunity to sit down with legendary first-team manager, Christian Ziege, to have a say in the design of the home and away kits or to hopefully see the initial cash investment grow as the club becomes more successful.
Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Fan Owned Club, and FCPS board member, Mark Ciociola, will more than happily engage with potential investors, and with those who’ve already come on board.
This certainly isn’t a gimmick either, and an already loyal band of fan owners have got ahead of the curve to help write the Fan Owned club story from the very beginning.
New Yorker, Eric Krajewski, was sold on the idea after reading an article on New Year’s Eve 2019.
“I couldn’t get the idea out of my head, much less get to sleep! Just the name FC Pinzgau Saalfelden – sounded so foreign and exciting. I believe I woke my wife up at around 2am telling her what I was reading! My first impression was this is a completely unique, possibly once in a lifetime, opportunity to be part of a soccer adventure.”
First impressions count, clearly, and as Eric delved more into finding out about FC Pinzgau Saalfelden, he was quickly sold on the idea.
“I live in Buffalo, NY and no longer feel connected to the local teams. After family and my professional life, I felt a need for a hobby – something to engage my mind with. I’ve played soccer, refereed soccer, and worked at Soccer.com. Where I’m at now in life, I didn’t have a soccer fix. There are no MLS teams nearby, and I don’t have a connection to any team. So, I was in the market for some soccer in my life. And the FCPS opportunity came along at just the right time. Investing in the club financially has made me feel more invested in a supporting sense. I tell the executive team that if a pebble of sand is moved, I want to know the reasoning behind it. I said if the guy who takes care of the field did a Zoom call – I’d be on it!
“I’d like to learn as much as possible as a Fan Owner. The more my experience mirrors the experience of our executive team, the more compelling the project becomes. The best part of being a Fan Owner is caring about something and have that something care about you. The relationship is two way. I’ve collaborated with the executive team and they have been very receptive and positive. I presented the opportunity to my father, Tom Krajewski, and a good friend of mine, Christian Falyar. They are both Fan Owners as well!”
That feeling of being immersed within the club and feeling part of it is something that Chris Walz can identify with.
“It was such a novel concept. In this age of billionaire club owners, obscene transfer fees and outrageous ticket prices, soccer seems to have gotten farther and farther away from average fans. The vision of taking a small, lower-division club in a ‘smaller’ European country and creating a fan-owned club with the goal of rising up to the top division and qualifying for Europe was incredibly appealing. Just something about the entrepreneurial spirit and hopeful idealism of the whole thing was really compelling -- especially in the middle of a global pandemic.
“Just being able to call myself an ‘owner’ makes me feel invested emotionally in addition to financially. And the ability to have input on club decisions gives you a sense of involvement and impact you wouldn't get otherwise. You genuinely feel part of something bigger than yourself. Almost like the first employees at a start-up company. Things like team gear and ‘inside access’ are nice, but really it's the opportunity to own part of the club and feel invested in a project with other fans just like you from around the world that was the primary appeal. It feels very personal and grassroots -- the opposite of ‘corporate.’ Being in on the start of a journey full of possibility with potential joy and heartache is super exciting. As they say, why follow a club when you can own one! Would definitely recommend this to anyone (and have already recommended to friends).”
One of those that Chris recommended the venture to was his brother, Martin, and there’s a valid reason why he too wanted to be a part of Fan Owned Club. Indeed, both can thank their father for a lifelong love of soccer.
“My late father introduced soccer to my older brother and I when we were little kids, and that was the beginning of a life-long love affair with the game. We were original season-ticket holders for the Seattle Sounders in the old North American Soccer League starting in 1974 and have remained diehard fans through their entry into MLS. Going to games with our dad was a favorite childhood activity, and even though my brother and I ended up living on opposite coasts as adults, soccer fandom and sharing big events like the World Cup and Champions League finals gave us the ability to stay connected to each other and my dad over the years. It provided us something in common to bond over. When he passed in 2016, he left us a very modest amount of money and we could never decide what to do with it. When I shared the FOC/FCPS email with my brother after shares became available for sale, he instantly suggested we use the money my dad left us to invest. We thought it would be a fitting tribute to his memory -- he loved soccer, travel and adventures -- and a great way for us to share a new soccer-related experience together while bringing our dad along with us symbolically.”
Ryan Long is one of the club’s most recent investors having only learned about the existence of FCPS in May. He explained what piqued his interest and why he was quick to part with some of his hard-earned cash.
(L-R): Chelsea Long, Ryan Long, Carson Long
“I was scrolling through Instagram and saw an ad that caught my attention which turned out to be about FCPS. At first glimpse, I didn’t recognize the team name or jersey, but read the ad and learned quite a bit about the club. From that moment, I knew this adventure was something that I wanted to join. I did quite a bit of research on both FCPS and Fan Owned Club, and the fact that the club was in the third division and aiming to be promoted to the Austrian Bundesliga made this project super exciting! I would say being financially invested into FCPS has 100% made me feel more invested from a supporting point of view. I actually feel as though a small part of this club belongs to me! I obviously want the club to do well on the pitch, but being able to contribute financially gives me a positive feeling about helping the club achieve long term goals.
“I'm an enormous soccer fan, I love watching leagues from many countries and all divisions. There are many fantastic benefits that come with being a fan owner, but just being able to own a small part of this club is super appealing to me.
Ryan’s garden at home – complete with FCPS logo!
“Ultimately, I would love to see the club promoted to the Bundesliga, and I would absolutely love to make the trip to Saalfelden and see a match live in that beautiful stadium one day. I have family heritage that traces back to Slovakia, Hungary and Austria, as does my wife. Knowing that we have ancestors that possibly lived close to this area also made me feel connected to this club. Prior to actually becoming a fan owner of FCPS, I talked about the project quite extensively to friends at work and at home with family, and it sparked some interest. I actually have a very unique ownership group story.
“There are five of us that have contributed money and we made our own little ownership group. Three friends of mine from work (Jim Nelson, Jerry Ammerman & Pat Lafferty), and my Aunt (Susan Zelensky), aren't even soccer fans but after hearing me speak so passionately about FCPS and the opportunity to become an owner, they all wanted to join with me! I've also been in contact with CEO, Mark Ciociola, quite often via email and he's been super helpful! I even asked Mark for a small favour; if he would put the names of our little ownership group on paper and take a picture of that paper at the Stadium, so I could share it with the other four. He did and everyone loved it! This club is amazing! I am constantly talking to others hoping to persuade them to join Fan Owned Club and become an owner of FCPS.”
Christian Falyar was another to have learned of FCPS’ existence in the Spring of 2020, via Eric Krajewski, who you’ve already heard from, and then after reading the article published by The Athletic. An extensive traveller as well as being a soccer fanatic, watching all levels from grassroots right up to the Premier League and German Bundesliga, part-owning a club in Austria ticked all of the right boxes for Christian.
“To be honest, when my friend texted me that he’d invested in a club in Austria, I was a bit sceptical, and we had several conversations that left me with more questions than answers. Being able to invest and ‘own’ part of a professional European club, a long-held dream of mine, still seemed like a bit of a stretch. I wasn’t familiar with the ‘other’ Bundesliga so I spent some time online learning about the OFB and their professional divisions. However, after reading the article in The Athletic, I was introduced to Mark Ciociola who called me at home from Saalfelden, Austria. He set out his vision for FC Pinzgau and how he thought the club could be successful both in the short and long-term, and after our chats I felt that this particular club and Austria made good sense.
“With the right approach, the potential for success is very good. I was also impressed with Mark’s openness to explain what investing involved, including the risks in light of the COVID pandemic. From the very beginning, he has been receptive to any suggestions that will improve the club experience. For example, since my involvement, FCPS have made a couple of changes regarding FOC communication and the club website, which I believe were a direct result of conversations we had. Furthermore, I have Mark's personal number in my phone contacts list. I can't think of another club where you can call a board member directly to discuss club matters.
“Of course, being financially invested in FCPS not only creates an interest in the club and players, but also the OFB and the Saalfelden region. I am a soccer fan but I enjoy the match atmosphere as much as the match itself. Every fan is passionate about their club, and as an FOC fan owner, I hope to be part of that with FC Pinzgau. As someone who travels (pandemic permitting) to Europe regularly, I’ve a strong desire to soon visit Saalfelden, meet the ownership group and see the workings of the club in person. I joked with Mark that FOC takes 'Fantasy Football' to a whole new level.
“I decided to invest based on a couple of things. First was the club's situation. Austria has a strong soccer heritage, with many great teams. Although not as well-known as the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga or the German Bundesliga, it has good standing within UEFA as evidenced by its Champions League and Europa League allocations. I also appreciate Mark's tempered optimism and plan moving forward. He recognizes the importance of club stability, on and off the field, in order to sustain success. Having Christian Ziege as the coach doesn't hurt either. While he is a familiar name in soccer as a player, he also has valuable experience as a manager and club director that many teams in the league don’t have. His hire and his character will ensure club stability, which it will need for sustained success. Benefits such as helping design the kit, etc. are nice, but they were not what led me to initially invest.
“I hope to see how the off-the-field decisions translate into the on-field success of the team. I'd like to gain insight into the strategic decisions regarding personnel, when is the right time to apply for promotion, etc. Although I enjoy conversations with coaches regarding formations, style of play, etc., I'm more interested in the process of determining which players fit in the system, and how the club go about signing players based on finances, long-term promotion goals, etc. I've had other FOC fan owners from all over the country reach out to say "Hi" or share their experiences online, and each one of us brings something a little different to the FOC experience. Combined, we will make this something unique.”
Mark Meehan’s reasons for investing in FOC are similar to those of his co-owners, but his story differs slightly in that he wasn’t actively looking to invest in the club. The Athletic article just happened to come along at the right time for Mark to know that he was keen to be a part of the project.
“On December 31, 2019, Matt Pentz wrote an article in The Athletic, and I think anyone who has ever been involved in football has that feeling inside them that they'd love to own a club. I won't say that I was searching for clubs to invest in, but when I read the article, it was just one of those moments where I realised that this was exactly what I wanted. In terms of why I invested, there were a few things, but I am a sucker for a good stadium and I'll be damned if I can find one better that Pinzgau. It makes me feel like the club's success is also my success. It's different from saying "I supported Man Utd all my life so I will enjoy the reflected glory if they win the league"; this time I'm actually involved in shaping the club's future.
“I'd have signed up without the benefits (not that I'm saying I don't enjoy them!). Fan ownership is the way football should be, and it's something that has become lost at the elite levels of the sport. I'd love for this venture to be such a colossal success that you'd have to be crazy to even fathom any other model. It's easy to invest in a Fortune 500 company and draw some profits from it in 5/10 years’ time without making any mark on the world. Football clubs are such a vital source of joy/positivity in the communities in which they operate that investing in, and helping to build, a club to reach its max potential fills me with pride and I wish it was something more people could feel.”
So, as you can see, everyone’s reasoning on how they came to part-own FCPS is different, but all are now united in one common aim; to see the club go from strength to strength on and off the pitch.
To do so too with a board that is not only more than willing to be as transparent as required – unheard of in the modern game – but who are also receptive to suggestions and ideas.
This unique venture has many more chapters to be written yet, so why not be part of the journey with us. You can invest right here.
Plant the roots. Grow the game. Shoot for the crown.