Football fans, there’s good news on the horizon.
While we’re still staring down the barrel of a long, hot summer, we’re a lot closer to the start of the 2016 season than we are the end of 2015. Whether you’re a fan of college or the NFL, somewhere between three and five months of gridiron bliss is starting to come into view over the horizon.
But of course, we all know how this plays out. Long before the 2016 season draws to a close, you’ll start thinking about it. The thought may steal upon you the moment your college team drops that game that knocks them out of playoff contention. It may intrude once your NFL squad’s shot at the Lombardi trophy goes a-glimmering, whether due to losing this year’s version of Injury Attrition Lotto in November or simply being the Browns in September. It may rear its ugly head when you realize that your cherished Fantasy team is as ugly as sin on Sunday (and that it doesn’t get any better looking on Monday Night.) But whatever your particular trigger, it’s all but certain that before the curtain falls you’re going to hear Ned Stark’s voice in your head with that starkest of reminders - “Winter is coming.” Winter, and spring behind it, with nary a down of football of football in sight for seven. Long. Months.
Would that despair be easier to bear with some succor in sight? You may not have noticed – and judging by the attendance, you haven’t – but the Indoor Football League kicks off its season mere weeks after the Super Bowl comes to a close. All you have to do is embrace one of the IFL’s ten franchises as your own and you’ve got five months of fast-paced football to carry you right to the doorstep of NFL training camp.
Now, I can expect some reasonable objections to this plan, and sure - the barriers to excitement seem numerous. Eight on eight arena ball isn’t everyone’s cup of tea when it’s being played on ESPN2 by franchises that you’ve vaguely heard of before, let alone when it’s going down in an even lesser-known league whose famous alums include Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, running back Fred Jackson and…that’s pretty much it. Throw in the challenge of forming an immediate emotional bond with any new franchise, and it’s tough to just up and decide that you’re going to clasp one of these teams to your bosom.
But what if, instead of simply cheering for this new team, you could run it?
That’s the premise behind Project FANChise, a first-of-its-kind endeavor that looks to turn total control of a professional sports franchise over to the fans. FANChise was conceived by Sohrob Farudi, a tech entrepreneur and die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan. Those are pretty much the two resume bullets you’d expect from someone hatching a scheme like this, as evidenced by the famous quote:
Genius is one percent inspiration, and ninety-nine percent frustration that a dynastic succession from Jerry Jones to Stephen Jones might see me to my grave without another Super Bowl.
"Love him or hate him," said Farudi on the topic of the Cowboys owner, "a lot of football fans would give up a finger to be Jerry Jones. It's that passion and desire that we're tapping into, the thought that every football fan has about running a team. Fans get a lot of lip service, but we are actually putting them in control."
With that mission in mind, Farudi started scheming just how to engineer a situation where the fans could call the shots. He assembled an impressive list of partners to get the venture off the ground, from ex-49er front office man Andy Dolich to NFL alums like Ray Austin and Ahman Green to former ESPN and NFL Mobile executive Manish Jha.
But while this crew will serve in an advisory capacity, the fans will be the ones making the final calls with a jocks-to-socks level of involvement that even early-era Jerrah might envy. Fans have already selected the franchise’s location in a matchup between Salt Lake City and OKC (Salt Lake City won) and they’ll next be voting on the team’s name, logo and colors as well as fun stuff like picking a mascot, choosing the cheerleaders and setting the arena playlist. And if bells and whistles were the extent of the fans’ decision-making power, this experiment wouldn’t be all that noteworthy.
But here’s where it gets interesting.
In July, FANchise fans will vote on the team’s general manager and coaching staff. In the fall, they’ll get to scout prospects at a series of camps nationwide (or turn up and try out themselves) along with locking down the offensive and defensive schemes and playbook. In January of 2017, they’ll watch training camp and vote on exactly which players will make the final cut. And once the season kicks off in February, the fans will call every play in every game.
Kinda gets you thinkin’, doesn’t it?
On the one hand, this feels like a fascinating social experiment. It’s easy to imagine this kind of setup attracting both serious-minded football fanatics eager to prove their chops outside the confines of a Fantasy league or Madden matchup. It’s also easy to imagine it attracting those of a more, shall we way, puckish bent. If you’re committed to giving fans the final say in matters great and small, where do you draw the line between good-natured Boaty McBoatface shenanigans and outright trolling when real, live humans are busting their asses and risking serious injury to keep their football dreams alive?
On another hand, this feels like a really fascinating football experiment. Assuming that everyone involved is of reasonable goodwill, how do you competently and collectively make coherent decisions about everything from personnel to scheme to play calling while also keeping a locker room full of real, live humans engaged and inspired?
For Farudi and his partners, cutting-edge technology is the key to turning both of these experiments into success stories. A tech-driven fan education and empowerment effort will aim to build connections and buoy football smarts in ways that none of the Big Four Leagues’ billion-dollar franchises have ever attempted.
"Our goal is not to turn over a football team to fans and hope for the best," said Farudi, "we want to put fans in a position to succeed right out of the gates by giving them access to football front office execs and All-Pros that have excelled at the highest level and building tools for them to learn the game at a level that's not been possible before unless you had a full-time job in the front office."
A crowd-sourced analytics department headed up by the lead data scientist for the $350 million Downtown Project in Las Vegas, the Carnegie Mellon Tartan Sports Analytics club and a particularly wordy Longhorn blogger will aim to provide fans with insights on everything from player selection to opponent tendencies. A nascent system dubbed “FanIQ” will measure fans’ engagement and football chops and confer greater decision-making power on those who earn it. And the FANchise Mobile Application will serve as a portal between the fans and the team, enabling everything from film review to live play-calling to interactions with the team’s players.
The development of that application is the primary goal of Project FANchise’s current IndieGoGo campaign. If you want a front-row seat (literal or figurative) for this one-of-a-kind football experiment, you can choose just how close you want to get to the action.
Want instant Pro Bowl FanIQ status in the FANchise app to ensure that your voice gets heard in everything from selecting the coach to picking the plays? That’s yours for $25.00 – or, to put it another way, the cost of parking at Jerryworld.
For $65.00 you can become an official team scout, with a direct line to the team's Director of Pro Scouting.
Want to serve as an official Assistant Offensive/Defensive Coordinator, Special Teams or Quarterbacks coach? $250 will make you a real, live member of the staff.
Want to really beef up the ol’ LinkedIn profile with the title of Assistant GM and Co-Founder? $650 and you’re calling the shots – well, a good number of the shots, anyway.
Whether the inaugural season of the Project FANchise TeeBeeDees ends in a 3-13 crater or an IFL title, it promises to be completely unprecedented and endlessly entertaining. And for all of us football uber alles types who are typically consigned to dreary desolation for more than half the calendar year…that’s quite a deal.