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19th Oct 2015

‘Partner Fan’ is modern football monetisation reaching its absolute nadir

Nooruddean Choudry

Heard of a website called Partner Fan? Neither had I until the past few days.

It is a venture started by what looks like a Chinese company with offices in Sunderland and Tel Aviv called weWOWwe. In their own words, they aim to ‘help more fans explore their infinite passion for football and realize their football dreams’.

What that actually means is they enlist the services of local football fans for some of the biggest clubs in the Premier League and Europe, and basically sell their time as ‘professional fans’ to accompany you during your visit to a game.

Again in their own words:

“We offer experiences provided by hosts that we call Partner Fans. Partner Fans are fans who know very well and are passionate about their local football culture. They can upload on our platform their favourite football experiences which we call WOWs so that other interested guest fans may book them with their favourite Partner Fans in order to live through unparalleled football experiences.”

Doesn’t that sound nice? Isn’t it great that they’re providing such a beneficial service to visiting fans? It has even been compared to AirBnB and Uber…by people involved in PartnerFan.

The whole venture has attracted wave upon wave of online abuse, mainly from fellow supporters of the ‘Partner Fans’ touting their services. But why? What’s their problem?

Here’s the problem. The Football Supporters’ Federation are doing a sterling job of uniting bitter footballing rivals to come together in support of the ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ initiative. They are lobbying for a cap on away match tickets of £20 (£15 for concessions).

Why? So that football clubs around the country stop taking advantage of away fans by charging obscene prices to a captive audience. The FSF recognise away supporters as some of the most committed and loyal in the game.

At the same time, weWOWwe are encouraging and enlisting fans to take advantage of their own to the tune of £20 for a walk around a free museum, or £50 for a ‘matchday experience’ – not including a ticket – which includes ‘singing songs’ at a pub, or even an accompanied walk around the megastore.

It’s utterly depressing. For anyone who has grown up following football at any level, the matchday experience is at the core of everything. Even in this age of modern football and the Disney-fication of the national sport, it’s still special.

Logically, there’s no point in going. The weather’s often sh*t, the roads are jammed, and public transport a nightmare. You spend far more money than you can really justify to be regularly disappointed with the fare on show.

Why do that, when you can watch on telly with replays, a perfect HD view, and all the amenities and comfort you could possibly need? Why trudge to the game when you can go for a slash at home without queuing up or your feet sticking to a pissy floor?

As trite as it sounds, it’s because of the people. It’s meeting up with mates and making new ones, and being on nothing more than nodding terms with complete strangers for years. It’s the buzz on the way to the game and the shared joy/angst after it.

You can’t buy that…until now. The last part of the game that couldn’t be controlled or forced or monetised will become all those things if weWOWwe and their ‘partner fans’ have their way. Supporters are now happy enough to swindle their own.

You can go to the pub and be welcomed in, no trouble. You can join in the songs. For all the bad press that football fans regularly get as the scum of the earth, they’re generally f**king lovely at welcoming you into the fold.

You can’t – or you shouldn’t – put a value on that. These celebrity fans made famous through their fan channels will argue back with the basic principles of modern capitalism. There is after all a demand, and they are merely the friendly supply.

I’d humbly suggest “bollocks to that”. What you’re doing is selling bottled water with the tap you used to fill the bottles hiding behind you. The ‘match experience’ is there to be had, it doesn’t need you as the opportunistic middle-man.

The underlying suggestion seems to be that there’s rich foreign fans out there willing to cough up so what’s the harm in taking their money. Such logic differentiates the gullible foreigner from the streetwise local. And that’s just snide.

A lot of these travelling fans wake up at all hours to follow the team we take for granted on our doorstep. For many of them coming to the Emirates or Old Trafford or Anfield will be a once in a lifetime experience.

You’re not making it more convenient, you’re robbing them of the free authentic togetherness and camaraderie that reds show towards reds, or blues show towards blues, wherever you’re from.

weWOWwe claim that their Partner Fans ‘know very well’ the ‘local football culture’. I’m not sure they do, or they wouldn’t be involved. The whole venture reminds me of what Rudyard Kipling called ‘the world’s oldest profession’.

The key difference is at least pimps and their personnel don’t trade on people’s dreams.