Fan-powered league ready to play
For all the talk of new football leagues launching in coming years, little attention has been paid to one already in its first training camp with two teams featuring roughly 90 players, including past Super Bowl winners: Your Call Football, in which fans call the plays through a mobile app.
While consumer and media buzz about the league may be minimal, some big names in sports are taking notice: Lagardère Sports and Entertainment is producing the initial three-game season, and Barstool Sports will use its two key personalities, Big Cat and PFT Commenter, as commentators to engage the audience during the digitally streamed games.
“You know exactly how important their influence is,” league investor George Colony, founder of technology research firm Forrester, said of Barstool.
This week, the league will unveil a three-person announcing team. Fox Sports personalities Justin Kutcher and Jen Hale will be joined by former NFL player and TSN football analyst Jabari Greer.
Your Call is currently wooing new investors to raise up to $40 million. So far, Colony is the only investor. Your Call doesn’t have a public face as well-known as Vince McMahon, the WWE impresario who plans to relaunch the XFL in 2020, or Charlie Ebersol, the scion of sports TV legend Dick, who is readying the Alliance of American Football next year. But Your Call has something they don’t — four patents for the mobile app that will be deployed, marrying gaming with football just as esports explodes in popularity.
“We are integrating three different businesses,” said Julie Meringer, president of Your Call Football, which will stage three games between the same two teams next month at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., and perhaps more later this year. “I am integrating the business of football with the business of gaming, with the business of fantasy on the back of four patents.”
Through a free mobile app, fans can vote on one of three plays that the head coaches — former Green Bay Packers head coach Mike Sherman leads YCF Grit and former Steelers running back and ESPN analyst Merril Hoge leads YCF Power — select in-game depending on the situation. For example, if it’s 1st and 10, fans could choose from a run up the middle, a forward pass and an outside run. The fans have 10 seconds to vote, and then the winning play is called. Every play is called by fans, who earn points for participating. Over the three games next month, Your Call will hand out $50,000 in cash prizes to fans who do best at picking plays.
While it may sound gimmicky, the football is real. In addition to Hoge and Sherman, the coaching staffs have more than 250 years combined of NFL coaching experience. Most of the players have been in an NFL camp, and some boast Super Bowl rings, like quarterback and ex-Seahawk B.J. Daniels and former Ravens running back Bernard Pierce.
Your Call tapped Optimum Scouting to recruit the talent. Players will receive $6,000 for the six weeks they are employed. Optimum works with NFL teams and startup leagues, and company founder Eric Galko said that experience has led him to believe that the football is the easy part; the business is what’s difficult.
“I worked with the [defunct] UFL; they always came from the football side of things,” Galko said. “I have learned that the football player personnel is not necessarily easy as a process, but really not the most important part of having a new football venture.”
Your Call will not sell tickets, or even encourage fans to attend the games, which will be streamed over the app and won’t be carried on broadcast or cable networks because the FCC delay would make it too slow for fans to vote on the plays. In addition to the app, the streams will be available on yourcallfootball.com and on barstoolsports.com.
The league plans to make money through mobile ads and on-field sponsors. Next year, if the league continues, the app will cost $5 for fans who want to be eligible for prize money. If sports gambling is legalized, that could open a major revenue opportunity for the league.
“The time has come for this,” said Colony, who envisions the technology translating to other sports. “This is going to happen, either us or someone else, and it is going to be a very important part of sports.”
Can Your Call replace the traditional spectator experience? Colony says no.
“It will be around a hundred years from now,” Colony said. “I call this the third football. You have collegiate, you have professional football, and those are wonderful products, you sit with a beer and watch terrific coaches making terrific calls. This is a third type of football, a third type of sport.”