The owners of Chattanooga FC have opened up their beloved club to fan ownership in a non-cosmetic, very real way, and it is going very well.
Billing the move as the first time in America that a “soccer club offers fans true ownership,” the National Premier Soccer League club has sold over 1,800 of 8,000 available shares in its club over a 24-hour period.
For $125 a share, buyers get “one vote, a stock certificate, an owner lapel pin, a “CFC Owner” yard sign, their name on our 2019 third alternate jersey, access to exclusive owner benefits and merchandise, and invitation to annual shareholders’ meeting.”
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ProSoccerTalk spoke to CFC general manager Sheldon Grizzle about the project, and found that its deep roots stretch back to board room daydreaming and the Green Bay Packers’ selling shares of their NFL club to fans.
“In the very early days of Chattanooga Football Club, we’d sit around in the board room and talk about how cool it would be,” Grizzle said. “What if we could have that commitment and culture in Chattanooga?”
Grizzle played a pivotal role in starting the club over a decade ago before taking a break to work on some other projects. He returned last January after selling his shares in a software company, and became even more involved when CFC’s general manager departed the club to help start a USL League One side in Chattanooga. Grizzle took over the GM duties in November.
He’s always held firm faith in the project, because he says CFC was built for the soccer fans, players, and proud citizens of its region. Having an opponent across town with non-local ownership has only redoubled the club’s commitment to its city.
“The entire founding group is Chattanoogans,” Grizzle said. “This wasn’t about money or creating value to sell it to someone else. It really was about Chattanooga and planting a flag here that says this is Chattanooga’s team and we are never leaving. This is by far the best way to demonstrate that this is the case.
“It has already far exceeded our expectations. When we initially did this we were thinking, if we could get 1000 people to say I’m an owner of Chattanooga FC, that would be a really powerful thing for our community. For us it’s just an honor and an encouragement to have so many people thinking, ‘We love what you do. It’s important, and I’m willing to literally invest and take ownership of this thing which is good for our community,’.”
What broke the dam for CFC was a federal law which allows for crowdfunding across all 50 states. It took a decade-old idea and launched it into hyper speed, relatively speaking.
“We found out about this model about a year ago, maybe 18 months ago, and we’ve chipped away at it,” he said. “In the last four months, we’ve really driven hard on it. It was love of community, commitment to a place that we’re never gonna leave. Now if we ever sold the club at some point in the future — clubs transition, they have to. All of our owners are going to die at some point — and someone can take care of our baby better than us. When that happens, we don’t want there to be any chance that the club can be taken out of city.”
In doing so, Grizzle has ensured that his club will outlive him. It’s something that has driven numerous groups across the country, but CFC is implementing the most ambitious plan yet.