Words: Sam Diss 
Header Image: Chattanooga FC / Twitter

The National Premier Soccer League is the lowest tier on the American football pyramid, but that hasn’t stopped over 2,000 people investing in Chattanooga FC.

While fan-ownership app OWNAFC came under immediate criticism and has since spectacularly imploded, Chattanooga – a team for a town of under 200,000 people, based in southern Tennessee in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains – as raised half-a-million dollars in a month.

According to reports by the Guardian, a $125 share entitles the owner to one vote and an invitation to the annual shareholders’ meeting in the town. While anyone can invest from anywhere (and, god bless ‘em, people will do that), the idea that a share gets you a seat at the table of a democratic club already counters much of the criticism of OWNAFC, which seemed to pitch fan ownership as a purely mobile-based game.

Shareholders will also received “a lapel pin, a ‘CFC Owner’ yard sign and a stock certificate. His or her name will be printed on CFC’s away shirt along with the names of all other shareholders.” It’s all very American, of course, and you wouldn’t be surprised if every win was greeted by a shot at cooking the world’s biggest apple pie, but the fact that American teams are courting fan culture in such a way gives you an indication of the growth of the game outside MLS.

To kick off their new-look season, Chattanooga played an exhibition game against Guatemalan giants Comunicaciones, who have won 30 league titles in their 70 year history and are one of the country’s biggest and most popular clubs. Chattanooga lost, but put up a good show: holding Comunicaciones 0–0 before conceding two in the second half. What was most impressive was that over 7,000 fans turned up to watch.

“When you look at the bigger picture, it was fantastic to see our local Guatemalan community come together with the fans we typically get on a Saturday night,” said Chattanooga FC coach Bill Elliott. “The fans were tremendous tonight. It is a blessing to be a part of something like this.”

Obviously, that courting of their Central American community helped the gates, but a natural integration of the city’s multicultural population can only help to create a club that is more than just middle-class college kids playing games on a converted baseball field. Inspired by NFL side Green Bay Packers, the only major publicly owned sports team in America, Chattanooga want to pitch themselves as a “local” club – and stay that way.

It’s early days in the Chattanooga story, and they still have some bugs to work out – namely, its supporters club referring to itself as “Chattanooligans” – but who doesn’t want to see more small clubs succeed?

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