Why Your Organization Should Pay Attention to the Fan Controlled Football League
Have you ever become infuriated watching your favorite football team’s play calling suck? Or screamed at the TV when your coach opted for a cowardly punt on fourth down? Well then, can I interest you in an analysis of the recently launched Fan Controlled Football?
Wait, what the heck is Fan Controlled Football?
Fan Controlled Football or FCF is the latest re-imagination of professional football. Unique aspects of league gameplay include:
- Streamed on Twitch
- Seven player versus seven players
- Short 50 yard field
- No kicking or special teams
- One hour games
However, the real innovation surrounds the fan experience:
- Fans vote on all the plays during the games on Saturdays
- Fans also vote in live player drafts on Wednesdays to fill out the roster of players
- Essentially, there’s a loyalty program, Fan IQ. The more a fan interacts with the league, the more powerful his or her vote becomes
- Drone cams, helmet cams and VR provide alternate views
- Players and coaches take part in live weekly shows to give fans another chance to engage with the league
Currently there are four teams in the FCF: Glacier Boyz, Zappers, Beasts and Wild Aces.
Each team is led by a group of high profile owners:
- Glacier Boyz are led by rapper Quavo and professional cornerback Richard Sherman
- Zappers are led by social media star Bob Menery and NY Met Trevor May
- Beasts are led by former all-pro RB Marshawn Lynch and WNBA player Renee Montgomery
- Wild Aces are led by online personality Greg Miller and LA Charger RB Austin Ekeler
Creating the league was an endeavor several years in the making. The founders have been very thoughtful about organization and how to give control to the fans. Check out this podcast to listen to the plan straight from one of the founder’s mouths.
What’s preventing the FCF from going the way of the AAF or the XFL?
In my mind, there was a large strategic difference in how these leagues were constructed. Each of the following paragraphs could be a standalone 10 thousand word blog but since no one wants that, let’s run through the argument why I think the FCF has serious staying power.
Some context: the Alliance of American Football (AAF) didn’t even make it through its inaugural season before folding in 2019 while the latest iteration of the XFL ended prematurely due to COVID in early 2020 before filing for bankruptcy in April.
When analyzing the now defunct leagues, the main thesis behind starting them was the public’s appetite for professional football could sustain additional leagues to the NFL. These leagues introduced some slight tweaks to NFL gameplay (e.g., different special teams formats) but for all intents and purposes it was the same old 11 versus 11 football. What these leagues failed to consider though was the significant step down in talent on the field versus the NFL. The AAF tried to address this by hiring high profile coaches, but who has ever turned on an NFL game for their favorite coach?
All the while, these two leagues relied on a similar business model as the NFL. Professional sports leagues like the NFL rely on four primary buckets of revenue: Media rights, Gameday revenue, Sponsorship and Merchandising. The NFL is currently the richest professional sports league with all 32 teams profitable because of the growth in its massive media contracts (current deals expire within the next two year and negotiations are ongoing with 100%+ increases being floated in the news).
The XFL and AAF mimicked the NFL’s media strategy, choosing linear television for primary distribution. But when the expected eyeballs never materialized, the leagues’ media partners unsurprisingly decided to back out, collapsing an essential revenue pillar that led to the leagues’ demise.
Turning the attention to the FCF and considering lessons from the previous leagues’ failures, there are three main reasons I don’t think FCF will have the same fate:
- The League Doesn’t Want to be the NFL – Unlike the AAF and XFL, the FCF drastically changed the gameplay, opting for 7 on 7 rather than the traditional 11 on 11. While Bleacher Report had an article all the way back in 2013 detailing the rise of this new format, it has never made its way into the public conscience. Yet the fast paced emphasis on passing offenses appeals to a scoring obsessed fan base (hello fantasy football lovers).
- The League Is Not Beholden To Its Media Partners – By choosing streaming on Twitch over traditional media, FCF doesn’t have the same issue of over reliance on media partners like the AAF and XFL had. Networks have a finite number of time slots and incentive to run the best performing programming to sell to advertisers but Twitch is a completely different animal built on a different business model. No one has to buy the rights to the FCF for the league to operate. Plus, the FCF is meeting the consumer on a platform that they are already familiar with. Check out this article for some statistics on Twitch’s meteoric rise as a platform.
- The League Recognizes the Value of StoryTelling and Personality – Whereas the NFL’s goal is to put the optimal product on the field by grabbing the most talented individuals, the FCF understands individual stories are often much more compelling. Players in the FCF’s initial pool were often selected for having the most interesting backgrounds and not necessarily the most talent (though they aren’t necessarily slouches). In addition, the owners of the teams are established personalities and bring their own fan bases, often from outside the typical sports fan realm.
The FCF is now two weeks into its inaugural season. How has performance been to date?
I can’t find numbers from the second weekend yet (games are streamed on Saturdays) but opening weekend metrics were strong. Highlights include: Most downloaded free sports app for a three day period, over 700K live views on twitch, greater than 250K plays called by fans, more than 70% of fans called more than 5 plays. From an engagement perspective, all of those are positive.
The league has been fairly successful to date gathering sponsors before a single game was played. Wendy’s is the big brand name as the official field-level partner, but with WHOOP, Vroom, Kinexon, Black Box VR and Schell Games also on board, the league also attracted several sponsors who share an interest at the intersection of sports, technology and gaming.
I do want to raise a cautionary tale though. The opening game of the XFL’s 2001 original launch was considered a success with a 9.5 nielsen rating as plenty of people tuned into the broadcast of the love child of wrestling and football. But interest dwindled drastically throughout the season when fans realized play quality was low and so-called innovation were mostly gimmicks. The league’s championship drew a pathetic 2.1 rating, helping lend to the easy decision to fold the league.
Anything else interesting from a business perspective?
Yes. The league offered a small percentage of each team’s equity to the public, offering another avenue to give fans skin in the game. It’s a creative strategy that helps solve for how to create team loyalty when 1) there’s no geographical location tying you to an organization (i.e., I’m a Yankee fan being born and raised in New York) and 2) the majority of players are unknowns.
In total, what the FCF is building goes directly along with the last edition of this newsletter about the power of building a community. Every decision leading up to the league’s inception revolved around the goal to drive engagement and make the fans part of the experience. The FCF doesn’t want an audience; it wants a community.
What lessons can I apply to my organization?
Let’s summarize takeaways into three lessons that can be applied to every organization:
- Know Your Audience – I truly believe the AAF and XFL failed because of an inability to properly evaluate potential customers. As the tech world would say, no product market fit. Reminds me of the epic failure of Quibi and mis-reading the market. Meanwhile, the FCF is targeting a different customer with a unique value proposition and meeting them on a platform they’re already familiar with.
- Adapt Your Business Model To The Times – A big trend I haven’t touched on in depth is the growing power of influencers. The FCF is clearly taking advantage of having popular influencers as team owners while the AAF and XFL failed to capitalize on the same trends. A similar example is the current status of boxing. While traditional boxing has been experiencing a steady decline in interest for the past several decades, celebrity boxing leagues are sprouting up and capturing much higher viewership levels. For example, the dual exhibition matchups of Logan Paul versus Nate Robinson and Mike Tyson versus Roy Jones Jr generated over a million pay-per-view buys, the highest boxing pay-per-view buys in a long time.
- Build a Community to Keep Customers Coming Back – Hopefully I don’t have to explain this one again….
That’s all for now. Next week’s full edition will explore the Future of Ticketing.
Until next time,
Add me on LinkedIn and follow me on Twitter @ccampisi_EES. Feel free to share some feedback on the newsletter or just pass along interesting findings in the sports tech space via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).