So you’re a football fan. You attend the games. You follow the players, can recite their stats –– where they came from, their strengths, weaknesses, records. You know precisely where the game was won –– or lost. Think you have what it takes to pick the next great quarterback or running back? Well, you may have your chance! A new subscription-based service, Fanteractive, offered through the Southern Indoor Football League (SIFL), the minor league that includes the Fayetteville Force, hopes to create the ultimate fan experience and bring the fans as close to a team as possible. Andrew Bondarowicz, president & CEO of Fanteractive, LLC explained this new approach to bringing the fan experience to a whole new level.
“I’ve been an NFL-certifi ed agent since 2004, so one of the things I noticed is that it’s become very apparent that scouting is in the eyes of the beholder,” said Bondarowicz. “A player that one person may think fi ts may totally not be the right fi t for a different team, for a different coach. We were at a college all-star team back in 2006, and there was one quarterback that everybody was screaming about. ‘He’s going to be all pro one day.’ He gets drafted in the second round of the draft, has a mediocre career so far and you look back and say, ‘Well, what was everybody raving about?’ It’s just the luck of the draw. A year later, ESP [Entertainment & Sports Plus, a national, full-service athlete and entertainer management fi rm] comes out with a players report that the best general managers in the business only get it right 55-60 percent of the time interviewing the top draft picks.”
Bondarowicz reasoned that perhaps fans could offer better odds.
“More and more, there’s such an appetite for the business side of the sport — not just football, but any sport. We’re all obsessed with what kind of contracts the players get, what kind of deal did they sign, what kinds of trades get worked out between teams, and it’s a whole drama that fans never get to be a part of. We can all talk about what we think is the best thing to do, but when’s the last time the GM of an NFL team called up the fans and said, ‘What do you think we should do?’ What we want to do is create the ultimate fan experience. With Fanteractive, we have a database of players where fans can go in, write scouting reports, familiarize themselves with players who are available so that they can make decisions and recommendations to the coaching staff on the players that we want to bring in. We’re not going to be able to accomplish it for this year, but in future years, we’re going to have a fan draft, where fans are literally going to draft a number of the players who are going to come in for training camps, and then have the fans make decisions on the fi nal rosters.”
After all, where would the players and the league be without the fans?
“At the end of the day,” Bondarowicz said, “the fans are the ones who are our customers. They are our profi t, so what better way to give our fans what they want than to allow them to weigh in on the process? We have football coaches, we have closet football coaches, we have guys who have never played the game or never coached the game, but they have an eye for talent. It’s a pretty systematic process that we’re putting into play, and when you have 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 people weighing in on a player saying, ‘Hey, I think this guy’s pretty good,’ chances are, he’s going to be halfway decent. When you look at the NFL, the second biggest event on the NFL calendar, second only to the Super Bowl, is the NFL draft. What we’ve patterned our Fanteractive after is to simply recreate that on a minor league level.”
Fanteractive within the SIFL is live for the first year, so not every option of the system will be available in its “kick-off.”
“For this year, what fans will have the ability to do is to essentially interact with the players and coaching staff during the season. They’ll be able to work with the coaches on roster decisions. They’ll make decisions on the fi nal rosters at the start of the season. They’ll be involved in certain game-playing decisions,” said Bondarowicz. “We’re trying to work in certain in-game elements, for example, when it’s fourth and one, and whether we should take the fi eld goal or go for it. We want to incorporate some of those elements to really get fans into the game.”
Bondarowicz also explained that although the system is ready to go “full boat,” the fans will necessarily encounter a bit of a learning curve as they share the responsibility of providing their valuable input.
“We want to give the fans as much opportunity as possible, so we have to scale it back to administrative feasibility. From the fan perspective, we have to bring the fans along the way, too. We almost have to coach up the fans along to a certain point where they understand the decisions they’re making. They’re understanding the implications of some of those decisions from a player personnel perspective. It can’t be a popularity contest. You have to try put the best players on the fi eld. You have to look for the right parts to put into a system, so just because somebody may be a hometown hero, there may or may not be room on the roster for him, depending on what the team’s needs are going to be, so it’s a change in mindset from the stands just as much as anybody else.”
And the cost for fans to have their say? A bargain, especially when compared to the cost of owning one’s own franchise –– a $50 fee for the season. The option is included in the ticket packages for season-ticket holders. Response to the Fanteractive system has been positive, and it’s being extended to all players and ticket holders across the league –– potentially tens of thousands of people.
“People who are on the system really like it because the system itself incorporates the social media aspect,” Bondarowicz said, “so it’s kind of like Facebook wrapped up within a whole larger system. Right now, fans are voting on some of the league rules, player celebration rules, like how far are we going to let players go as far as celebrations, making some decisions about playing the ball off the wall. We’re giving the fans the ability to go through a full gamut of decisions, and it’s on a league-wide level.”
Although the Fanteractive system is essentially being done in the SIFL this year, Bondarowicz sees the application advancing into other sports as well.
“It’s really to infuse technology and fans back into the games. One of the challenges you have with minor league sports is that a lot of fans don’t really know who the players are, so you go to a minor league baseball game, and you go there because it’s affordable family entertainment, and you watch the game, but you don’t necessarily get engaged in the games in the same way because a lot of times, there’s just not as much information available. The history of the players is not as traceable to you. This is just one of the ways to really kind of make minor league sports relevant in a different way. You give people a reason to care. You care who your quarterback is or who your second string guy is because you’re making decisions on him, so you want to make sure you got the best players available. We’re also working on an element where the cheerleaders will essentially be selected by the fans, so it’s through the same premise; you go through, and you scout and you judge criteria, such as dancing ability, appearance, poise, character, and you assemble a team. We’re a Dancing with the Stars and American Idol generation now, where we tell you those things,” said Bondarowicz. “So we really make this fun. We really want to make this interactive and create a whole new experience.”
No more will fans be relegated only to painting their bodies in bold team colors, sporting jerseys and hats and waving giant foam hands promoting their favorite team as “number one.”
Fanteractive puts them right in the game from behind the scenes. For more information, visit www.fanteractive.com and www.fayettevilleforce.net.
Photo: Fanteractive, a new subscription-based service hopes to create the ultimate fan experience.