There is little doubt that the digital revolution has transformed the way we consume professional sports, along with just about every other medium of content. Gone are the days when we patiently await our team’s next game, and perhaps pick up the newspaper to check a previous night’s box score, in order to engage in fandom. In the age of the smartphone, fandom never sleeps. Even if no games are being played, there are live streams of press conferences to watch, fantasy trades to negotiate, Xbox Live tournaments to consume, four-team parlays to bundle, cryptic emojis to unlock – the modern fan never sleeps (except when they literally sleep).
Yet professional sports leagues across the globe remain remarkably similar to their pre-social media selves. Little has fundamentally changed in their approach to ownership, management, and production, even as their fan base continues to evolve at a blinding pace. By now, video games and fantasy sports have become such a ubiquitous piece of the fan experience that consumers do not just yearn for an element of control; they expect it.
We believe that the tools and technology to bring a holistic, fan-controlled professional sports experience are finally in place, with the requisite public adoption to leverage. The appetite for such a league has been brewing for some time now, and the rise of blockchain technology has delivered the ideal mechanism for real-time, transparent delivery and consumption of decentralized decision-making.
So, what is the FCFL, exactly?
We began this experiment a couple years ago when the founders of Project FANchise procured a team in the Indoor Football League and designed an app that would allow users to vote on all decisions crucial to the organization’s management. First came the location (fans voted on Salt Lake City, Utah); and then the team name (The Screaming Eagles); and from there we implemented more complex, football-facing functionality, namely the ability to call offensive plays during a game.
Our app was designed to serve up a subset of potential play calls that were aligned with situational gameplay (as in, the down, distance, score, and clock). These plays, pre-selected by the coaching staff, were delivered to fans via the app in a format that would evoke Tecmo Bowl functionality (side note: this remains the best football video game ever created, and while Bo Jackson tends to get all the glory, the true GOAT of Tecmo Bowl was Deion Sanders, who could render an opposing passing game essentially useless with his 1.8 40-yard dash).
The app would lock in a play call that most reflected the desires of the fans, the coach was fed the play via a tablet, and the play call was relayed to the QB, all in a matter of seconds. We partnered with Twitch to bring our broadcasts to an environment native to video game consumers, allowed fans to make play calls directly in the chat box, and reached thousands of viewers across the world, the vast majority of whom had never before watched the IFL. Many of our most impassioned fans were calling plays from France, China, Australia, and just about anywhere with a good WiFi signal.
Our energy caught the attention of the mainstream press, who responded with a mix of wonder and excitement. From the New York Times to Sports Illustrated, the Wall Street Journal to GQ Magazine, the media recognized the engine powering fan-controlled football as a future path toward sports engagement. We were offering a hybrid of the videogame world and real world never before put into action.
After a successful trial run in the IFL that saw fans deliver an offense that ranked third in the league (and included Offensive Rookie of the Year, former Buckeye QB Verlon Reed), we are taking both the technology and the theory of digital-first fandom and building out an entire league around it.
The FCFL will kick off action in the middle of 2018 and will feature eight teams, all playing and practicing in the same location. Instead of building out an in-person viewing experience that is central to all existing professional sports leagues, we will host games in an ultra high-tech, state-of-the-art production studio that will emphasize the digital broadcast of the action over anything else. This acute and intentional focus on digital-first will allow us to be a testing ground for all sorts of new technologies that are difficult to implement in a traditional field environment. From helmet and drone-operate cameras to sensors built into the equipment and field, we will use our production studio as a laboratory for myriad pioneering advances in technology, and we will make them central to our product. We will also embrace social media as an inherent feature of our offering, giving fans the ability to engage with players and coaches directly via video, Snapchat, and Twitter during the action and off the field. We will remove any barriers to access and serve up a host of digital content, with fans becoming active contributors to this media.
Our game will consistent of seven-on-seven action on a padded 50-yard field, ripe for explosive offense in the air and on the ground. Fans will call all offensive plays, select defensive emphases (i.e. blitz-heavy approach, or perhaps a more conservative zone structure), and possibly do away with special teams altogether. We want to focus our game play on the aspects of football that most engage the viewer (sorry Pat McAfee, this will be a tough look for #thebrand).
In addition to on-field management, the FCFL fans will also serve a role resembling the hybrid of an owner and a general manager off the field. Through our app, fans will be tasked with hiring/firing coaches and personnel, scouting upcoming opponents or potential new players for the league, and a host of other football-related functions. The preseason expansion draft should be QUITE the experience, just as everyone knows that the draft is the most anticipated event of any fantasy league.
All of this fan engagement will be run on the blockchain via a proprietary token that we have built on top of ERC20-compatible Smart Token with the support of the Bancor protocol. This token, which we have dubbed FAN Token (Fan Access Network), will serve a function quite similar to a token within a traditional video game environment. The more you as a fan engage in the system, and the more successful the results of your engagement, the more tokens you are awarded. Your token stack, along with your level of engagement, then correlates to the power of your vote: the more tokens you have earned and the more active your participation, the more weight your vote will carry in the ultimate outcome, whether that be a third-and-long play call or a second round pick. Tokens are the lifeblood of the FCFL engagement engine, and like a videogame, your tokens can be used for a variety of transactions, including unlocking additional content, procuring merchandise, or gaining access to exclusive events including sideline viewing of games. We will even maintain a public leaderboard where fans will compete to see who is objectively the most successful owner/GM/coach, and the highest-performing fans of the championship-winning team will share in the $1,000,000+ purse. A truly transparent meritocracy courtesy of the blockchain.
We are creating an environment for fans to fully control the action; where you are (literally) part of the team, and not just a passive observer. We believe that this will not only create a more engaging product for fans, but will also leverage the power of the hivemind (or what animal behaviorist Thomas Seeley might call “collective wisdom” – shoutout to all my Honeybee Democracy nerds out there*). We believe that this collective wisdom will in fact drive better decision-making across the board. With proper technology, we can harness the knowledge of a massive network of informed football minds, each with time and energy to contribute, and ultimately create an enhanced football experience. Basically, a collection of miniature digital coaches forming a super organism in the form of a gridiron savant. Come to think of it, are we sure that Bill Belichick is a single human being? We may need to run a biopsy to confirm…
The FCFL represents a new paradigm in sports management where fans not only have a say in the action, but quite literally power the entire league. Decisions are not made in secret and controlled by a select few whose main objective is to remain employed; they are made by the very fans who consume the action with their time, energy, dollars, and emotions, incentivized by a uniquely merit-based system wherein the best fans are rewarded for their input with greater control (along with plenty of prizes, perks, and even cash distributions).
With the launch of the FCFL, we are giving power to the fans!
We can’t wait to get it started.
*Editor’s Note: a very relatable reference, especially for the fantasy football world