Picture: Xinhua/Han Yan
INTERNATIONAL - A minnow of English soccer, Stevenage FC, is an unlikely candidate to be at the forefront of financial innovation in the game.

Yet it has become the first soccer club in the world to sell bonds directly to its fans online via crowd funding, according to the organisers of the deal.

Stevenage, in England’s fourth division, raised £600000 (R11.14million) in September via a five-year bond to rebuild a stand in its stadium. It is set to be followed by Frosinone Calcio of Italy’s Serie B second division which unveiled a bond worth up to e1.5m (R24.73m) on Monday.

Tifosy, the crowd-funding platform behind the deals, was founded by former Italy, Juventus and Chelsea striker Gianluca Vialli, along with a former Goldman Sachs banker and two other investors.

The company’s name is a play on the Italian word "tifosi", meaning fans. The figures at stake may be small so far, but Vialli said he and his partners were aiming higher.

“We’re close to finalising something with a big club in Serie A and an (English) Premiership club as well,” he said. “We’re also talking to many other clubs in football, rugby and cricket.”

He added Tifosy takes a 4 to 6percent cut of all funds raised. Such fund-raising offers a new source of income to smaller sports clubs who don’t have the access to international capital markets, and can give fans another way of supporting teams.

But it comes with a risk for investors.