The Lake Erie Crushers
are the cellar of their division and in danger of missing the playoffs. Frustrated fans can’t do anything about it. Or can they? On Friday, Kevin Barber and Mike Waghalter came to All Pro Freight Stadium to launch America’s Ball Club, a crowd-funding campaign to give fans a say in the starting team’s starting line-ups and “make fantasy baseball a reality.” If they meet their goal of raising $75,000, backers will get to choose the team's lineup and batting order, pick the pitching rotation and select draft picks. If successful, the program will take effect mid-season.The fans could even fire the manager at the end of the season and then have a say in hiring a replacement. You can see the details for the campaign here
Inspired by My Football Club, a fan-driven campaign in 2007 during which a sports writer recruited some 30,000 fans to buy a stake in Ebbsfleet United, a mid-tier English league soccer team, Waghalter decided to try to do something similar in the U.S. It wasn’t until last year that he started to seriously pursue the Crushers’ campaign.
“The origins of this idea of a fan-controlled team represent the convergence of the rise of metrics and statistics and analysis of the game and how it’s dovetailed with Fantasy Baseball,” he says while sitting at the stadium’s third base lounge while the Crushers suffer through a shutout loss. “It’s created this amazing talent pool of baseball fans. You have people who know the game and analyze the numbers. I love the idea of tapping the knowledge and crowdsourcing like you see in Wikipedia and other sites and see if we can move the numbers.”
He originally sought advice from Crushers’ owner Steven Edelson, but Edelson liked the idea so much that he thought the Crushers would make a good pilot program. He went to the Frontier League to get their blessing and then gave Waghalter the green light. There are also plans to broadcast the team’s open tryouts and let fans determine which players the team signs at the start of the season.
“A big part of why we’re raising the money is that they’re giving us this control and it’s a big risk for them,” says Waghalter, who has an MBA. “These players have career and we want to be respectful of that. We want to help the team and create a great experience for the fans. It’s American Idol meets Money Ball.”