Can Twitter help save Spanish soccer club Real Oviedo?

Juan Ramon, a board member at Real Oviedo and the supporters club said: “In just 9 days, Real Oviedo received over 1 million euros with 274,000 of that from people who have no connection with the club so they became aware of the situation via Twitter.”

Story highlights

Real Oviedo's story has become an instant Twitter sensation as football fans snap up shares

Now in the third tier, Real Oviedo developed players like Juan Mata, Santi Cazorla and Michu

Club received over €1 million in just nine days, with €274,000 of that from people from Twitter

CNN  — 

In an age when Russian oligarchs and Arab Sheikhs spend billions of dollars on forging the perfect dream team, fan ownership has become a novelty for many of Europe’s top soccer clubs. But it is a route that might just be the salvation of struggling Spanish team Real Oviedo, thanks to a social media campaign that has gone viral.

Once a top-flight contender with La Liga heavyweights Real Madrid and Barcelona, the 86-year-old club – based in the northern mining region of Asturias – has until Saturday to raise €1.9 million ($2.4 million) or face extinction.

So far Oviedo has received over €1 million in a period of just nine days – with €274,000 coming from those who heard about it via Twitter, according to board member Juan Ramon. There is a Twitter hashtag set up – #saverealoviedo.

The football community is also doing its part to save the third division club, whose “cantera” youth academy – or quarry – is responsible for unearthing some of the gems of Spanish football. Names such as World Cup winner Juan Mata, Arsenal’s little magician Santi Cazorla and Swansea’s star striker Michu are all graduates.

The English Premier League stars have joined forces to help save their former club, while Real Madrid legend Raul has bought €1,000 worth shares to keep Oviedo in business.

Real Oviedo and Sporting de Gijon are the two major clubs in Asturias, once the heartland of Spanish coal mining and one of the country’s most prosperous regions.

But its coal industry has receded and the European debt crisis has engulfed Spain. Substantial investment has been hard to find as the Spanish government grapples with harsh austerity measures and chronic unemployment.

In a desperate attempt to salvage the club and guarantee its future in the short term, the board of directors announced a share issue earlier this month to attract investment.

The scheme – open to anyone with a spare €11 ($13) – has become an instant Twitter sensation, and football fans around the world have been quick to show their support by purchasing shares.

However, Spanish football expert and long-time Real Oviedo supporter Sid Lowe says he is unsure whether the social-network campaign will be enough to save the club before the looming deadline.

Lowe – who has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of Oviedo’s plight among football fans – told CNN the worldwide response from supporters is “absolutely astonishing.”

Last week, queues formed outside the club’s 30,000-seater stadium, the Estadio Carlos Tartiere, as fans clamored to buy a stake in their beloved club.

“The financial target is quite modest in football terms … but serious investment for the club is very hard to find, particularly in a place like Asturias,” Lowe said.

‘A perfect storm’

After 13 consecutive seasons in La Liga, Oviedo dropped to the second division in 2001.

The real turmoil began in 2003, when mismanagement from the club’s directors bought the Asturian team to the brink of bankruptcy. The boardroom turned into a political battlefield as relationships soured, aggravated by a series of poor performances on the field, according to Real Oviedo shareholder Rodolfo Diaz.

Diaz – an Oviedo supporter since the 1970s and a season ticket-holder for over 20 years – has stuck with the club through good times and bad. He told CNN that 2003 was like a “perfect storm” for Oviedo.

“In modern times, Real Oviedo has been a victim of greed and businessmen who wanted to make profits quickly,” he said.

Today, Diaz is pleased to see that control of the club is back in the hands of the supporters and that football fans globally are buoying the club through charitable donations.

“As a linguist, football is that universal language that we all speak and we all understand. It allows us to bond,” he said.

“This bad situation has generated a very positive spirit through Twitter.”

Club ownership

Real Oviedo is not the only Spanish club to embrace shareholder power.

Barcelona – touted as the best football team in the world – is governed by a group of fans called the “socis.” In return for an annual fee of €140, members are tasked with electing the club president and voting on matters affecting the side.

In Germany, it is a requirement for clubs in the league – known as the Bundesliga – to be 51% owned by supporters or members to ensure they’re managed responsibly.

Ramon believes an influx of shareholder fans provides a “great opportunity” and can create a more financially stable and healthy environment for football teams.

“Across Europe, a movement is developing that aims to promote the influence of fans at football clubs,” he told CNN.

On November 7, Supporters Direct Europe, the association of European football fans, presented a list of recommendations to the European Parliament in Brussels, including greater involvement for supporters in their clubs and financial fair play.

“The social role of football is of great importance,” said Ivo Belet, a member of European Parliament involved with the movement.

“This is the reason supporters should have a say in the management of their clubs.”

Uncertain future for Oviedo

Although the future of Real Oviedo remains far from certain, Diaz says he would expect nothing less of the club he has followed since he was a boy.

“It is quite a poetic situation – a club on the verge of extinction – and I think in the last minutes everything will be solved. In injury time, we will come out fighting and gain victory.”

Diaz thinks Real Oviedo will play until the end of this season, even if the club does not meet its November 17 deadline – when the team faces a tough trip away to the reserve side of second-placed La Liga club Atletico Madrid.

“It’s the same of story for the fans, we will suffer to the very end.”