SBJ/Jan. 24-30, 2011/Sports in Society

Virtual Web world will promote activity by linking up to sports equipment for children

FunGoPlay, a New York-based digital media startup, is preparing an entry into the youth sports market that connects a Web-based virtual world with computer-friendly sporting goods.

The creation of executives from the music, children’s television, licensing and comic book industries, FunGoPlay.com will have sports-themed casual video games and a youth-oriented social network backed by a set of newly created digital characters: the FunGoPlay All-Stars.

The FunGoPlay All-Stars will be part of the digital world connected to balls and other sports equipment with microchips inside.
Sporting goods such as soccer balls and footballs, created in partnership with Yonkers, N.Y.-based EB Brands, will contain microchips in which real-world play is tracked and then can be monitored at FunGoPlay.com, in the way that Webkinz in the toy industry merges online and offline play. Users logging extensive real-world play will gain additional rewards on FunGoPlay.com, both real and virtual, and will unlock areas within the site.

The website launch and initial direct marketing for the sporting goods are being targeted for this spring. FunGoPlay plans to have the sporting goods available at retail in 2012.

“We’re going after the ages 6-11 market in particular, and there just isn’t a lot out there in the sports industry that speaks directly to that audience,” said David Jacobs, FunGoPlay president. Jacobs’ background includes stints leading licensing efforts for major children’s entertainment brands such as Sesame Street, Thomas the Tank Engine, Bob the Builder and the Wiggles. “Rather than a tack-on kind of thing to what is fundamentally targeting an older demo, we’re looking be totally about this age group.”

For now, FunGoPlay is eschewing any formal partnerships with sports teams or leagues, preferring instead to build its own brand and develop its own intellectual property. But Jacobs said such alliances may be considered at a later date.

“Over the years, we were always trying to find a way to get kids off the couch, and for kids, play is exercise,” said David Mauer, EB Brands chief executive. Mauer’s extensive work in youth-oriented products includes executive and board roles with Riddell Sports, Mattel USA and The Topps Co.

“This is by far the most clever premise I’ve seen to get kids to be active and really turns the whole paradigm on its ear. Having actual play also helps you become a more powerful player online as well, bridging those two worlds, was simply too compelling a proposition to miss.”

Price points for FunGoPlay products and content have not been determined, but a “freemium” model is being developed in which portions of the website will be free to access, while buying the gear will open other areas for periods of time.

FunGoPlay to date has been funded by more than $3 million in privately raised venture capital money, largely from friends and family of company founders. A larger, Series B funding round is now under consideration.

The site will feature some original and licensed music, the outgrowth of Chief Executive Steven Lerner’s nearly two decades of experience in the music business, most notably as co-founder of independent label Wind-up Entertainment.

“The gaming, the music, the social networking components — these are all points of entry to get kids more excited about sports,” Lerner said. “These are the areas where kids are and what they’re doing.”

The FunGoPlay name itself was specifically designed to contain three syllables, much like other dominant children’s brands such as Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh and Bakugan.

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