The world of sports is ever-evolving, with innovative concepts and technologies reshaping the way fans interact with their favorite games. One such innovation is Fan-Controlled Football (FCF), cofounded by Grant Cohen, a league that has defied convention and captured the imagination of sports enthusiasts worldwide.
Fan Controlled Sports, originally known as fan-controlled football, has found a unique niche in the market by empowering superfans to have a real say in the games they love.
In this blog, we delve into the interview with Grant Cohen, as he shares the inspiring journey and the innovative approach his company is taking to redefine the sports industry.
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Growing Up in the Bay Area
Grant Cohen’s early years were marked by the golden era of Bay Area sports, where the San Francisco 49ers dominated the NFL, boasting legends like Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. The memories of those glory days left an indelible mark on Grant and laid the foundation for his love of football.
Sent to a boarding school just outside of London, Grant’s formative years were spent away from home, an experience that fostered independence and maturity. It was here that he met his future wife and gained invaluable life skills that would serve him well in his entrepreneurial journey.
Transition to College and Entrepreneurship
With a passion for sports, Grant initially pursued broadcast journalism in college, envisioning a career in sports announcing. However, an encounter with Professor Walter McDowell led him to a shift that proved pivotal in shaping his future.
Prof. McDowell had come to Miami from Southern Illinois to create a new media management program based on the business side of advertising. Being mathematically minded, Grant found the concept very interesting and made the switch from broadcast journalism, which was his original plan.
Along with a few others, Grant was one of the first few students to graduate with a media manager degree from the University of Miami. Like most of his peers, Grant moved to New York and did a short internship at Sports Illustrated. However, he soon moved to LA, California.
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Entrepreneurial Spirit Runs Deep
Raised by entrepreneurial parents, Grant inherited a spirit for business. Early experiences in various startups and ad tech companies honed his skills, preparing him for the challenges of running his own venture.
Grant remembers his father starting several businesses and his mother owning retail stores. He recalls working in an early-stage startup that created apps for Blackberries and PalmPilots. Although Grant started off with marketing for the company, he soon transitioned to business development.
At one point, the app was number one in the world back when there were green-screen Blackberries, having thousands if not millions of users. Grant reveals how he has always how the product side of technology worked but never really focused on the strategic value of the business until FCF.
The Birth of Fan-Controlled Football
The inception of Fan-Controlled Football dates back to a conversation in a New York bar in 2007, where Grant and his friends pondered if fans could call the plays. Although Grant pushed the concept to the backburner for years, it would resurface as a groundbreaking concept that would revolutionize football as we know it.
For a while, Grant and his friends tossed the idea around and even came close to buying a minor-league baseball team in Texas. Then, the crash of September 2008 happened.
Far forward a few years, and Grant teamed up with Rob and Patrick, who owned a minority share of an Arena Football League in Las Vegas. They decided to expand and turn it into a fully interactive football league. To do that, they bootstrapped and raised friends and family rounds for money.
Grant and his co-founders also brought in a fourth partner, a former Chicago bear, who had some NFL experience. They bought the rights to a new team and got the fans involved by letting them vote.
Grant remembers starting a fun social poll and an Indiegogo campaign to raise $50000 to build an app that would let the fans pick the team by way of a Kickstarter-style pre-equity scheme. They sold out in two weeks raising $98,000.
FCF’s first season, based in Salt Lake City, was a testament to Grant and his team’s determination. Despite initial challenges, they sold out their games and achieved remarkable engagement metrics, setting the stage for a new era in interactive sports entertainment.
Navigating Challenges and Embracing Innovation
The journey of FCF was not without its share of trials. From failed funding attempts to the impact of the pandemic, the team faced adversity head-on. However, their adaptability and innovative spirit led to strategic partnerships, including a landmark deal with Twitch, which bolstered their position in the industry.
FCF’s success story gained momentum with a $10M seed round led by Lightspeed Venture Partners, Talis Capital, Correlation Ventures, and Verizon Ventures. With each season, they expanded their reach, doubling viewership and quadrupling revenue.
The addition of new teams, celebrity owners, and the launch of an NFT project solidified FCF’s standing as a pioneering force in sports entertainment. Grant and his co-founders went on to raise a series A $40M funding round and then another $100M in their last round.
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Superfans: The Driving Force
Grant Cohen sheds light on the power of superfans, the dedicated individuals who go above and beyond to support their favorite teams and players. These fans are not only eager to purchase unique gear and collectibles, but they also make significant digital purchases.
What’s truly fascinating is the revenue split revealed after the second season – nearly half came from the millions of weekly viewers, and the other half from the 5,000 diehard fans who displayed exceptional engagement and retention rates.
Grant revealed some impressive numbers like 600,000 or 700,000 live views per game day, 100,000 installs, and millions of play calls. He also estimates that 85% of people who registered actually voted, and 78% of people who voted once came back and voted multiple times.
By their second season, FCF went on to expand from 4 teams to 8 teams. They brought in a slew of new owners by mentioning that they had launched their own NFT project.
Expanding Beyond Football
While Fan Controlled Sports gained prominence through football, Grant emphasizes their broader vision. The company, known as Fan Controlled Sports, aims to extend its interactive platform to encompass various sports.
Drawing parallels to popular gaming and betting platforms, Grant predicts a year-round fan experience that keeps enthusiasts actively engaged, whether it’s NASCAR, golf, basketball, or even international sports.
One of the challenges Grant highlights is the seasonal nature of sports engagement. Unlike traditional video games, Fan Controlled Sports relies heavily on live games, making off-seasons less engaging for fans. To counter this, the company is working on creating a seamless, year-round experience, ensuring fans always have something exciting to participate in.
The Importance of Cohesive Co-Founders
Reflecting on his entrepreneurial journey, Grant emphasizes the significance of having compatible co-founders who share a common vision. He believes that enduring the highs and lows of the business world requires a strong, supportive team.
Trust and alignment among co-founders have been instrumental in overcoming hurdles and making crucial decisions. In a groundbreaking move, Fan Controlled Sports’ objective is to take sports to the fans to build engagement and ownership.
While owning a major professional sports team has traditionally been reserved for a select few, Grant looks forward to a future where individuals can actively participate in team ownership. This bold initiative has already seen success in football and will soon extend to racing and golf.
Grant Cohen’s journey from a sports-loving youngster in the Bay Area to a co-founder of Fan Controlled Football exemplifies the power of innovation, resilience, and entrepreneurial spirit. FCF’s rise in the world of interactive sports showcases the potential for groundbreaking ideas to transform the sports landscape.
As FCF continues to evolve, its impact on the sports industry promises to be nothing short of revolutionary. Grant Cohen’s vision for Fan Controlled Sports is nothing short of revolutionary. By placing the power in the hands of the fans, the company is reshaping how sports enthusiasts engage with their favorite teams.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- Fan Controlled Football (FCF) empowers superfans to have a real say in the games they love, revolutionizing the sports industry.
- Upbringing and early experiences in the Bay Area laid the foundation for a love of football and entrepreneurial spirit.
- FCF’s concept came from a conversation in a New York bar in 2007, ultimately leading to a groundbreaking concept in interactive sports entertainment.
- FCF faced challenges but demonstrated adaptability and innovative spirit, securing strategic partnerships and significant funding rounds.
- The power of superfans is central to FCF’s success, with dedicated fans driving engagement and revenue.
- FCF’s vision extends beyond football, aiming to create an interactive platform for various sports, providing a year-round fan experience.
- Cohesive co-founders and a shared vision have been crucial in FCF’s journey, enabling the company to revolutionize fan engagement in sports.