Now that the dust has settled a bit after yesterday’s announcement that Frank McCourt would be purchasing Olympique de Marseille, the Marseille faithful and media have begun scrutinizing the American businessman’s record. While his massive fortune creates potential for big signings, his past record (and the record of other Americans) in club ownership raises some concerns for OM’s future. Potential concerns include financial mismanagement of the club, raised ticket prices, a lack of fan representation, and the corporatization of the OM we know and love. Here are some actions that I feel McCourt would do well to consider, if he wants to succeed in Marseille.
McCourt, visiting le Vieux Port. Photo source – foxbusiness.com
What McCourt Should Do to Succeed in Marseille
1. Do Not Get Involved in the “Soccer” Side of Affairs
While owners can be tempted to offer their guidance on who to sign and where to play them, this should not be McCourt’s role. His role should be to hire the right people to do this. An instant club president candidate, for me, is Pape Diouf. Hiring someone like Pape to run the club would bring a proper balance to the structure of the club; McCourt should remember this. McCourt is entering a sport that he may not know very well, and it would be a big mistake for him to interfere in the on-field decisions of the club. Micro-management by an owner is an efficient way to dissuade coaches from signing up. Constant interference can disturb the serenity of a locker room, and the natural development of a team on the field. He must remember in soccer, there is one coach (not several like in the US, one club president, and an owner. This structure is key to successful clubs.
2. Do Not Attempt to Manufacture a Fan Experience
This point comes directly from his announcement speech (link at bottom of article). He mentions that he wants to “create the best fan experience in France”. While this idea of a “game experience” works well in American sports, this would not fit in Marseille. Here in the USA, sports are considered entertainment. You go to the game, you sit in expensive seats, you buy food and drink, you sing the national anthem, you watch a halftime show, you watch advertisements on a jumbo-tron, as well as watch a sports game. American sports games are long, with frequent interruptions in play. Fans need these distractions to stay engaged over a four-hour game.
However, attempting to recreate this American sports scenario in Marseille would be a disaster. You do not go to the Vélodrome to do anything other than one thing: engross yourself completely into the game. It is Marseille fans, themselves, who create the experience, not the stadium or club employees. In the Vélodrome, it is 65,000 screaming fans who bring the atmosphere, not the club. If the team has a fighting spirit, and represents the city well, the fans will come out every weekend. Corporatizing the experience will turn le Vélodrome into the Parc des Princes.
3. Do NOT Raise Ticket Prices to Astronomical Levels
I say this with Liverpool FC in mind. Liverpool is owned by Fenway Sports Group, an American investment company. They have come under intense pressure from their fans, after raising season ticket prices to 77 pounds (90 Euros or $100). Liverpool, one of the most storied clubs in England, had never raised their prices to such an extent. This was seen as a money-grab by the American owners, and a sign of disrespect to the fans. This sparked a massive fan protest, where the fans left Anfield during a game at the 77th minute. Marseille is nothing without its fans. Raising ticket prices will cause the true supporters in les virages to be replaced by businessmen. Raising ticket prices would replace the cauldron of deafening noise typical to Marseille, with the crushing silence of indifference from a stadium filled with uninterested corporate figures. This is something that must not happen.
The walkout by Liverpool fans, to protest the hiked ticket prices.
4. Bring the Fans Closer to the Club
While this is a long shot, I believe the sale of the club is a way to allow fans to get closer to the club. For years, especially during the Marguerita reign, the fans felt alienated and helpless in the management of the club. As the club grew worse and worse, fans felt powerless to make any changes, and watched as Marguerita Louis-Dreyfus’ doctrine hurt the team’s performance.
McCourt, as the principal owner, would have the chance to bring the fans into a Socios ownership, like at FC Barcelona. The fans would be able to invest in shares of the club, and truly have an official stake in the club. By offering fans a small portion of the club shares, he can bring the supporters to the table, creating a union between the club and the fanbase. The fans would be finally have a voice in the future of the club. This would be nothing but positive, and would help heal the relationship between the fans and the OM management. One such organization has attempted to start this, called Massilia Socios Club. Information can be found here – https://massilia-socios-club.lepotcommun.fr/ .
5. Sit in the Stadium During a Game With the True Supporters
There is only one way to experience the passion and ferveur surrounding OM, and that is to be with the fans during a game. I believe McCourt would learn a lot about the club by sitting in the stadium with the fans. He would see how different the experience is from American sports: the fans are active, not passive, participants in the game. In the stadium, he will see all the different types of people, of all ages and backgrounds, coming together to support the team. He will see the concentration and obsession we have with the team, and understand that OM is not some corporate trophy: it is part of the fabric of Marseille. McCourt will not be able to know this from an office in LA – he must be on the ground, in the streets before the game, and in les virages during the game. This, for me, is the first action McCourt must take as he buys the club.
Comment below with your advice to McCourt! I would love to collect responses and post a second article with all of your ideas. Feel free to share your thoughts! Or hit me up on twitter @MatthewRazaire. Merci, et allez l’OM !
Check out the links below, in case you missed anything.
Link for Purchase of Club (for the uninformed) – http://www.france24.com/en/20160829-american-businessman-buy-marseille-football-club
McCourt’s First Words After the Announcement – http://www.lephoceen.fr/infos-om/autour-de-l-om/mccourt-je-suis-quelqu-un-de-tres-fortune-148702