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Fan Controlled Football (FCF) has raised $40 million in funding for its novel sports league where spectators call the plays in real football games.
Animoca Brands and Delphi Digital led the funding round, which will help FCF grow as it moves into its second official season.
Los Angeles-based FCF is a pro football sports league where fans use their smartphones to make key decisions for teams that play live events. The fans call all the plays in real-time using their nonfungible token (NFT) voting rights. Fans vote on each play from a selection of plays, and the players run the play that gets the most votes.
Other investors include Gemini Frontier Fund, 6th Man Ventures, Jump Crypto, Red Beard Ventures, executives at GoldenTree Asset Management, and Sebastian Borget, co-founder of The Sandbox. Additionally, all of the league’s initial seed investors participated, including Lightspeed Venture Partners, Talis Capital, Verizon Ventures, Correlation Ventures, and Basecamp Fund.
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FCF, owned by Fan Controlled Entertainment, was originally founded in 2017, but it pivoted to a new plan and made its formal debut in February 2021. It started with four teams owned by some famous sports names, including Marshawn Lynch, Quavo, Richard Sherman, Austin Ekeler, Dalvin Cook, and Bob Menery.
“The concept is to blend the best of the physical and the digital worlds,” said FCF CEO Sohrob Farudi, in an interview with GamesBeat. “It has live sports, real players, real coaches, a real league, but it is built for the digital age and the digital fan. Rather than focusing on the in-person experience, we’re focusing on the experience for people on mobile and on the web. And we wanted to make it interactive, we wanted to lean into gaming and esports.”
He added, “We wanted to create a way for fans to really feel empowered and feel their voices are being heard. We do that by letting them make decisions, everything from team branding names and logos and the player draft, where they pick the players they want on their team. And then they call plays in real time during the game.”
The league aims to redefine football for the digital age by combining the competitiveness of live sports, the engagement of fantasy sports, and the interactivity of video games into a livestreamed, leaned-in fan experience.
“We’re excited to support FCF, a league that is at the cutting edge of bringing Web 3.0 and blockchain to professional sports,” said Yat Siu, chairman of Animoca Brands, in a statement. “Having followed its successful and entertaining first season, we look forward to the groundbreaking ways that fans will be able to engage with FCF in the upcoming seasons.”
The game shaves off some of the boring parts of football. There is no coin toss. There is no kickoff or kicking for extra points. Instead, players start with a game of rock-paper-scissors to determine who gets the ball first. Many of the players are called and run within 30 seconds.
When fans join the league, they’re locked into their team. They get points based on their engagement, and those points are reflected in Fan IQ. The higher it is, the more votes a fan gets on the leaderboard. It is a kind of gamification of the fan experience, Farudi said. Each Baller NFT costs 0.1776 Ethereum, or about $573 at the current exchange rate.
The first season took place amid the pandemic in February and March 2021, and players had to stay in a bubble at a hotel. About 70% of the 100 or so players are coming back for the second season. The company will move to two seasons per year soon.
Season v1.0 saw FCF become the fastest growing live sports channel on Twitch with nearly 10 million total live views, and one of the top sports apps in the Apple App Store. In that first season, FCF had more than a million views per game day. It had 125,000 app downloads and 2.2 million real-time fan interactions.
In its seed round, FCF raised $12 million.
New expansion teams
FCF also announced two new NFT-governed expansion teams, owned by leaders of the Bored Ape Yacht Club and Gutter Cat Gang communities, respectively. The two new teams join the first two FCF Ballerz Collective NFT expansion teams that were recently announced, doubling the size of FCF for Season v2.0 from four teams to eight.
The four new teams will all be part of FCF’s innovative Ballerz Collective, a first-of-its-kind NFT community that will provide fans holding FCF Ballerz NFTs with team governance rights, play-to-earn game mechanics, and unique IRL utility and VIP experiences at FCF’s soon to be revealed venue in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Ballerz Collective NFT teams include:
- The Gutter Cat Gang community team led by King BlackBored, Dr. Dicatrio, Vivek Ravishanker, SpottieWiFi, and former NFL legend Jamal Anderson.
- The Bored Ape Yacht Club community with team ownership featuring TropoFarmer, Josh Ong, Jerseyborn, Franklin, Lindsey Byrnes, BenJammin, NFTsAnonymous, Jeff Nicholas, and Spr3adsh33t.
- Knights of Degen led by their founders and community members, which include NFL legends Tiki and Ronde Barber, Jerry Ferrara, Cynthia Frelund from NFL Network, Jasmine Maietta from Round21, Drew Austin, and more.
- Team 8OKI, led by two highly recognized blockchain advocates – famed musician and producer Steve Aoki, and 888, the founder of 888 Inner Circle and a leader in the crypto and NFT space.
NFT owners in each of these communities will be provided an opportunity to receive one of 2,000 free FCF Ballerz NFTs for their team, as well as early access to purchase a FCF Baller at a 50% discount to the public sale price. To join the team and get in the game, follow the Ballerz Collective on Twitter and join the FCF Discord.
“The successful strides that FCF is making within web3 are exciting … it’s a privilege to be involved,” said musician and FCF expansion team owner Steve Aoki, in a statement. “Really looking forward to building out our NFT community of passionate fans that’ll be calling all the shots for our team.”
The four original FCF teams include the Beasts, Glacier Boyz, Wild Aces, and Zappers. On March 20, the Wild Aces went on to become the first-ever FCF Champions, after defeating the Glacier Boyz in “The People’s Championship” on a last-second, walk-off QB read-option touchdown called by the fans.
The league is designed for digital fans, rather than in-person spectating. FCF’s games are played in a multi-purpose studio arena in Atlanta and streamed live on Twitch, NBCLX, Peacock, and DAZN. The upcoming nine-week season will kick off on April 16 with eight teams stacked with pro-caliber players from the NFL, CFL, and NCAA programs. Last season’s rosters included Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and NFL stars Josh Gordon and Robert Turbin.
The season has seven regular-season weeks and one playoff week, culminating with the People’s Championship. Regular and postseason play, in addition to exclusive behind-the-scenes league content, is available on twitch.tv/FCF and broadcast partners NBCLX, Peacock, and DAZN.
“FCF is getting they money up, securing them $40M’s, we ready for seasons 2, 3 and some mo,’” said Beasts co-owner Marshawn Lynch, a former NFL star, in a statement. “And special shout out to the Bored Ape Yacht Club and Gutter Cat Gang peoples for linking up with our FCF fam. These are the types of partnerships that tell you we ain’t messing around. I can’t wait to see how the whole NFT thing takes fan engagement in the ‘game’ to a whole ‘nother level, ya feel me?”
The company has around 30 employees.
“What we saw is that fans feel like the team is theirs. And that is the goal,” said Farudi. “With the rise of NFTs and Web 3, we have the opportunity to build something special. The world has caught up to our business model. It is turning ownership of sports teams into the hands of fans and players. And in the long term, this is about a vision for the democratization of sports.”