Salt Lake Screaming Eagles indoor football team gives fans control

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Salt Lake Screaming Eagles quarterback Verlon Reed throws against the Nebraska Danger. Screaming Eagles fans can call the team’s plays on its smartphone app. (Melissa Majchrzak)

Smartphones and social media allow today’s sports fans to follow their favorite teams and track everything they do.

However, engagement is largely one-sided. Coaches still run their preferred plays while general managers have the final say on the rosters.

The Salt Lake Screaming Eagles, a new indoor football team, set out to challenge this organizational structure earlier this year as the first Project FANchise operation in professional sports.

Fans use the official team app to control almost every aspect of the team, from in-arena music and food to front office decisions like roster cuts and playbook additions.

BYU alumnus and team president Thom Carter said they’re taking gaming, both sports and fantasy, to the next level.

Project FANchise is the ultimate blend of coaching from the couch, fantasy football and social media with professional football.

“Thanks to (longtime video game franchise) Madden, people who have never played football know what an out route looks like, how to run one and understand all that stuff,” Carter said. “Now you sit and watch a football game and wonder why they’re not running a play and you want to have more say.”

So far the reactions have exceeded expectations, said Project FANchise CEO Sohrob Farudi.

“Fan response has honestly blown us away, and it started a year ago with our IndieGoGo campaign,” Farudi said. “Before our team had a name, logo, coach or players, we had over 2,000 people from 20 different countries contribute to our campaign to support what we were doing.”

From day one, fans chose the franchise’s location, name, colors and designed the uniforms.

“It’s been amazing to see fans respond not just in the stadium, but nationally and worldwide,” Carter said.

Beyond the day-to-day running of the team, the most exciting part of the Screaming Eagles experience comes during the games as fans vote on the team’s next play the team will run from the line of scrimmage in real time from their smartphone.

“It was a lot of fun to be able to choose the plays that the team would be running,” said Patrick Sucher, a BYU senior studying landscape management who attended the team’s first game. “It’s a different way to interact with the team. Other sports, you can watch the game and root for your team, but you never got the chance to call the plays. Being able to call the plays and seeing them score was fun because you felt rewarded that the play you chose is the one that got points for your team.”

After a play, fans are given the first few seconds to vote on the next play. Options include a run or pass play designed for the team’s current down-and-distance. After the vote is tallied, the coach relays the majority’s pick to the quarterback.

With such a short time frame, the Eagles’ technology was one of the first things the team worked on after being announced.

“Indoor football has such a short play clock, 25 seconds, that we had to build something that was fast, accurate, and extremely easy to use for fans, so they could make decisions in around 10 seconds,” Farudi said. “We’ve been working on the FANchise concept for more than two years.”

Individual “FanIQ” ratings on the app go up as the team runs successful plays. This gives the individuals more influence on future play calls.

“What we’ve really done here is allowed people to mean it when they said ‘we’ related to the Screaming Eagles,” Carter said.

As with any app, bugs and hiccups happen and have forced the team to be flexible. The team had connectivity issues in their game against Spokane, but are already working on updating the app and enhancing the overall fan experience.

Melissa Majchrzak
Fans can use the Screaming Eagles app to call plays in the game. (Melissa Majchrzak)

“You allow the coach some leeway as it relates to hiccups or timing,” Carter said. “With any app, they always do bug fixes. Our development team is constantly working to update and engage, and we’re uploading new plays all the time.”

Sarudi said he sees a potential for ideas from the FANchise platform to be implemented by other sports in the new future.

“We are very focused on indoor football, and before we move into other sports we want to create a fully interactive football league. However, I’d be lying if I said we hadn’t thought about other sports,” Farudi said. “We really think what we’re doing is perfect for baseball, and we’re building the FANchise platform in such a way that we can easily license it to other teams, leagues, sports in the future.”

The Screaming Eagles’ season began in February and runs until mid-June.

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