We’ve talked a great deal about businesses connecting with their fans as a way to keep their interest in a product. The whole formula of CwF+RtB relies first and foremost on giving customers an emotional interest in seeing a particular business or product succeed. This generally involves treating the buying public well, engaging with customers in an open and honest way, making sure the product is great, and building advocates out of mere consumers.
But then one day the owner of an indoor American football team comes along and decides that basically the entire team should be run in a crowdsourced manner by the fans via a mobile application.
The Screaming Eagles claim to be the first fan-run professional football team in the United States. Using a free mobile app, anyone can vote on nearly all aspects of the new team’s identity and function, including calling offensive and special-teams plays. The experiment did not begin swimmingly. On the Screaming Eagles’ first possession, voters decided on a pass play on third-and-10 from their own 5-yard line. Reed fumbled in the end zone, and Nebraska recovered for a touchdown. Five plays later, on fourth-and-15 from their own 1-yard line, the vote called for a field goal. (The field is 50 yards long.) The kick was blocked and recovered by Nebraska for another score.
But the influence of the fans was felt long before they managed to collectively poop the bed on the field. The fans were responsible for the uniforms the team wore in the game, the name of the team and its cheerleader squad, and even the choice of the music to which the team warmed up. And, like all good ideas that have ever existed, the owner of the team decided to do all of this because he played video games.
Sohrob Farudi, the chief executive of Project Fanchise, the team’s ownership group, said there was no eureka moment behind his decision to start such a fan-driven team; it was something he had considered for a number of years.
“I was always on my couch, playing Madden, making calls and wondering why I was spending money on beer and tickets to games,” said Farudi, who sold his cellphone resale and recycling company, Flipswap, in 2011. “Being so close to tech and mobile, I wondered, Why can’t a fan be involved?”
And now they are, in more ways than with any other team in the history of professional sports. There have been some rocky beginnings to all of this, including some fans’ attempt to have the Utah-based team named The Stormin’ Mormons. Still, Farudi appears committed to the concept, and even his coach and players are getting on board.
McCarthy, whose résumé includes head coach and coordinator positions on four other I.F.L. teams, said he has warmed to a system that, to outsiders, may look as if he is relinquishing control of his coaching duties.
“At the end of the day, it’s still my plays,” he said. “I set up our system, so it’s got my plays in it and what we’ve been working on.”
Nobody would suggest that this level of fan involvement will translate to the larger, more popular sports leagues and franchises. But aspects of it certainly can. And the Indoor Football League is obviously desperate for eyeballs, so it’s quite interesting to see them try to attract fans by giving them a crazy amount of ownership over the product they’ll be watching on the field. It seems obvious that allowing fans to have this kind of crowdsourced involvement in the team can only help to keep them engaged by giving them an emotional investment in the product. That’s pretty clearly CwF-type thinking, with the curiousity of how the fans’ gameplan might turn out to be a rather creative RtB. There are even benefits for different levels of fan involvement and purchasing.
Christian Williams, 29, of Melbourne, Australia, spent $450 during the team’s crowdfunding round to be named one of 10 co-founders of the franchise. He said in a phone interview Thursday that he had analyzed scouting reports and held conversations with the front office via Skype and email.
“I like the fact that I have been involved in the process all the way,” he said.
Again, not a model for everyone, but it’s a cool concept for fan engagement. I imagine that engagement would only multiply if the team manages to start winning some games with the fans at the helm.