Israeli soccer club puts online fans in charge

TEL AVIV (Reuters) - An Israeli entrepreneur has decided the time has come for football fans to show they know better than the coaching professionals.

Diehard football fan Moshe Hogeg was so upset when star striker Lionel Messi was left off Argentina’s side for a World Cup match against Germany last year that he teamed up with an online gaming company to buy a club where fans decide over the Internet who will play and in what position.

“Millions of fans around the world wanted to see Messi in the starting 11 but one man thought otherwise and destroyed all our dreams when they lost,” the 26-year-old Hogeg said. “So we decided to do something about it.”

Hogeg’s company, Web2Sport, and its main backers, online backgammon Web site, paid $500,000 (244,000 pounds) for the rights to a small Tel Aviv outfit, Hapoel Kiryat Shalom, of Israel’s third amateur division.

Internet fans can use the team’s Web site, which is predominantly in Hebrew, to vote on the starting line-up and to give instructions to the coach.

“Most of our surfers like the idea that they can decide what the team will do: who will be in the first 11, what formation they will play and who will be the substitutes,” Hogeg said.

The Internet fans can drag players they think should play into their preferred positions on a pitch diagram by a deadline. The information is then collated and the players who get the most votes will line up for the next match.

Matches at Kiryat Shalom’s level are not televised, so Hogeg has hired an outside broadcast unit to allow Internet fans to watch the team’s matches online. For away matches they will have an audio commentary.

During the match, fans can vote on substitutions in a live online poll and they can post comments on an interactive blog while the action is taking place and ahead of the next fixture.

Kiryat Shalom has a core fan base of about 100. But ahead of the October 20th season opener they were joined in cyberspace by over 6,000 Internet surfers.

Some fans struggled to connect for the opening fixture on Saturday because of strong demand. Hogeg said they received about 10,000 hits and would boost bandwidth for the next match.

The team lost 3-2 to Maccabi Ironi Or Yehuda in injury time.