Fausto Zanetton was formerly an investment banker at Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs. But after meeting ex-Chelsea legend Gianluca Vialli at a talk in London, the pair decided to try and change the sporting world.
Fausto, what is Tifosy and how did it come about?
While working as an investment banker, I found that sports teams, even major global sides, found it very difficult to secure investment. This gave birth to the idea of alternative funding for professional sports clubs, and in my mind I could see the potential of clubs tapping into their rapidly increasing digital audiences. Tifosy is now the world’s first and only fully-authorised sports crowdfunding platform. Sports fans are able to invest in projects run to improve the infrastructure of a club, with the added bonus of expecting a return on that investment. We call this concept ‘Fanfunding’.
How did Gianluca Vialli come to be involved in the platform?
While I was kicking around the idea of Tifosy, I went to a talk at the London Business School by Gianluca – a football legend and boyhood hero of mine. The talk focussed on the growing disengagement between clubs and fans, and how sport needed to work harder to close that gap across the globe. I stayed behind after the talk to speak to Gianluca, and told him about my alternative funding concept. He invited me over to his house to discuss it further, and many evenings of planning around his kitchen table later, Tifosy was born.
You’ve mentioned alternative financing for sports clubs, so how exactly does Tifosy help sports clubs to raise money?
The concept behind the platform is that clubs don’t take into account their biggest untapped asset – their fans. The name ‘Tifosy’ is born out of the Italian word for fans – tifosi. The notion is that by engaging their global fan base sports clubs can access vast sources of capital. If every Tottenham fan in the world gave £10, they would have the money to buy Messi – so when it comes to improving infrastructure or buying equity in a club, you can see the scope of untapped potential.
The 30 most followed clubs on Facebook have more than 720 million followers and more than 1 billion across all social channels. Even at League Two level, your average club will have up to 10 times more people connected to them online than physically going to the stadium on a match day. For larger clubs you can multiply that number by 1000. In the digital age, all of these people are connected and want to engage with their clubs – Fanfunding can help to meet that desire.
Do you have any campaigns running at the moment?
This week we’ve launched a campaign with Serie B side Frosinone, aiming to raise €1 million to turn their stadium into a state-of-the-art community facility. It’s the first mini-bond ever launched in Italian football and the project will include the creation of a shopping village, a restaurant and sports changing facilities for the local community. In return for investment, bondholders will receive 8% interest per annum made up of 5% cash and 3% club credit. In a country where only four clubs in Serie A own their own stadiums, this is a really exciting innovation, and if the campaign is successful, it could represent a blueprint for others to follow.
Can you talk us through some of the campaigns you have previously completed?
In England, two of our standout campaigns were with Portsmouth FC and with Stevenage FC. We launched English football’s first mini-bond in the summer of 2017 to raise the money for Stevenage to build a new all-seater North Stand. In just six weeks 200 supporters raised £600,000 – £100,000 over the initial target, with supporters buying five-year bonds paying 4% interest or 8% in club credit.
The Portsmouth campaign was a pilot project to prove the concept in 2014. It was a rewards campaign that gave fans unique experiences and club-related incentives in return for donations. The success of the campaign was phenomenal – in 62 days we raised £270,000 from fans in 35 countries – money that the club then invested in two new academy pitches at the training ground.
And finally, your work so far has been concentrated on England and Italy, why is that and do you envisage expanding into other regions?
Given Luca and my backgrounds, it was natural that our initial focus would be the UK and Italy. We both call London home and have done for many years, but we both have roots in Italy. In this sense we are quite lucky that these represent two of the biggest and most passionate sporting markets in the world. But our vision for the future is global – we want to expand into more sports in countries across Europe and the world. Everywhere that there are professional sports clubs, there exists an opportunity for Fanfunding – we want to be there to help clubs and fans grasp that opportunity. We’re in talks with clubs from a range of sports, so watch this space.