THE MODERN SOCCER TEAM, CALEDONIAN BRAVES
Updated: Jan 26
This article was originally published on September 25th, 2019.
An ambitious Scottish Lowland League soccer team has set out to change the way supporters interact with the sport.
Caledonian Braves FC is pioneering a new online fan engagement project that will allow soccer fans from around the world to join the team on their innovative journey to reach the Scottish Premiership by 2025.
Unique & Modern
Initially, the project created by Chris Ewing, a former professional soccer player, was a private soccer academy providing opportunities for young French soccer players to learn English whilst developing their skills.
The Edusport Academy, as it was formally known, became a fully-fledged soccer team in 2014, when they successfully applied to join the Scottish league system. Joining the sixth tier South of Scotland League, was the first step for the team to gain access to the Scottish soccer pyramid system.
After gaining promotion to the Scottish Lowland Football League, the fifth tier of Scottish soccer, in 2017, the owners began to review a number of options. “Having been promoted from the Lowland League, our business model is evolving" said Ewing.
The decision that Ewing made was to separate the soccer team from the soccer academy.
The Edusport Academy would continue as a separate entity. Which would have its own successes as it expands adding a rugby and dance academy.
The soccer team would create a proposal of a unique fan engagement model, which will help the team reach the Scottish Premiership within the next 6 years.
“We have no history, we have no fan base and we have carte blanche to create a brand-new football club that meets the needs of the supporters," stated Ewing.
Ewing's unique proposal saw the idea of creating an online community, to build the team's fan base worldwide and make them feel valued. The challenge the club had was making it seem niche and game-like for the members, while at the same time making it organized and efficiently run.
Soccer fans, especially in Scotland, have been crying out for transparency from their clubs and to have a real voice that is heard. For a lot of modern-day supporters, paying your season ticket money and getting nothing back other than seeing 90 minutes on a Saturday, is no longer cutting it.
The team would offer soccer fans from around the world to join the team as a ‘Revolutionary,’ as they have been coined. This would see members receive decision-making and voting powers to influence the running of the club, all at the cost of a £25 ($32) annual membership.
"The idea is to give fans a unique way not only to support a football club but to be involved in it in a day-to-day basis ... I think Scottish football needs something new and innovative," said Ewing.
The first decision that the ‘Revolutionaries’ made was to rename the team to the Caledonian Braves and to vote on the design of the uniform for the new season. Over 800 members across 25 countries used participated in the team's renaming.
“Renaming and rebranding was a crucial part of the project, as it gave our members the chance to leave their legacy on the club. I think Caledonian Braves is an inspired choice," Ewing added.
Additionally, members decided was made to call their new Bothwellhaugh home ground 'Alliance Park,' as a hint towards the 13th-century friendship between the Kingdoms of France and Scotland.
Outwith voting on naming things and new uniforms, members can affect other areas of the soccer club. Members have the ability to choose who they want leading the front office. As ‘Revolutionaries’ have the ability to elect club board members.
On the field, members will have the ability to recommend potential signings to the club. While also voting on whether a player is good enough to join the team after a trial. Although, members will not have the opportunity to actually pick the 11 players on game days.
"Members can put together names of players who they can identify, a bit like Football Manager, but certainly it's not fantasy football," as Ewing described the inability for fans to pick the team sheet.
Furthermore, the club's directors spent almost $40,000 to develop and launch a new smartphone app, which they hope will change the way that members and fans engage with the club. Offering members a ‘two-way’ communication approach with the club, while putting them at the heart of the club.
Ewing stating “for a club in the fifth tier of Scottish football to spend £30,000 on an app shows a real statement of our ambition. There is nothing like this in the country for football fans, and once they see it in action they will be impressed by the level of interaction that it provides."
Adding, “Scottish football has been crying out for innovation for too long and I’m proud that Caledonian Braves is leading the way when it comes to fan engagement.”
Anthony Brennan, head of business development for MTC Media (the app's developers), said: “We already work with Aberdeen, Hearts, Dundee United and Motherwell in Scotland, and Derby County down south.
“This is a game-changer which I think will disrupt the market and make much bigger clubs sit up and take note.
“At the moment, club apps are basically designed for the club to deliver content to the end-user, whereas this is a two-way app where the club is delivering content, but it’s based on the feedback and direction given by the fans.”
Once the new club reaches 10,000 members, they have announced the intention to donate £50,000 ($65,000) to grassroots soccer in Scotland, with the membership deciding where the money should be channeled.
The Braves' innovative business model was set to support Ewing's ambitions for the club.
Ewing described his ambitions for the club as “Roy of the Rovers stuff but if we can have enough people who buy into this idea, why can’t we get to the Premiership by 2025? Why can’t we be playing in the Champions League within 15 years?”
"Yeah it’s ambitious – but I’m an ambitious guy.
“Reaching the Premiership by 2025 is a bold statement but I stand by it as there is no reason why it can’t be achieved.
“The whole project is based on trying to inspire people so you need big hairy ambition and that’s what we’re offering."
Ultimately, Caledonia Braves' ambition to marry technology with fan engagement is a great way to counteract the issues facing small soccer clubs. However, it is still to be seen if this approach can provide the results to match the team's lofty ambitions.
If the Braves' do see any kind of success owners of teams in lower league divisions such as Scottish League 1 and Scottish League 2, will have to start taking more innovative risks to stay afloat, instead of continuing to go through the motions each season and expecting different results.