As the NFL’s media rights talks have concluded and the XFL and CFL discuss a possible partnership, the football world appears to be expanding. In the midst of this, the Fan Controlled Football League, which closes its six-week season Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on Twitch, has emerged as a place for players to gain experience in an innovative version of the game.
Living up to its name, the Fan Controlled Football League allows its audience to call plays, purchase stakes in teams, and vote on rules and postgame awards. This has resulted in the league increasing its total viewership from 735,000 in week one, to 922,000 in week three, to 2.1 million in week five. The FCF did not provide information on the average number of minutes viewers spent on its streams.
The league made a splash by recruiting big names like former Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel and former Browns’ receiver Josh Gordon. FCF players, many of whom hope to get a shot at the NFL, reportedly make $400 to $750 a week, plus their lodging and meals.
The FCF is backed by Verizon Ventures, Lightspeed Ventures, Talis Capital, Bleacher Report co-founder Dave Finocchio and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, and four-time Super Bowl champion Joe Montana.
“Fans always want to talk about shoulda, woulda, coulda every Monday morning, but now you don’t have to say that because you’re involved,” Montana said in an interview. “If you look at the type of people that they have financially behind them, they’ve seen the engagement numbers that are already happening with the fans.”
Montana was enlisted by FCF CEO Sohrob Farudi, who works alongside sports executive Andy Dolich and ESPN and NFL alum Manish Jha.
“Our goal is to open up as much as we can to fans,” Farudi said in an interview. “This is what all fans have kind of wanted to do. We’ve all yelled at the TV and wish we could’ve influenced draft picks, game-day decisions and all sorts of things.”
The league allowed fans to purchase a piece of teams by running an investment campaign with Republic, a private investing platform. The campaign sold out with more than $1 million invested by 2,432 fans. The minimum investment a fan could make was $150.
“Having fan owners is something I thought about five to seven years ago,” Farudi said. “I was born in Texas, and I’m a huge Cowboys fan. If Jerry Jones opened up a piece of the pie for fans you’re damn right I’d jump in and own a piece of the Cowboys.”
But before there were fan owners, the FCF had a wide range of celebrity co-owners, including rapper Quavo, ex-NFLer Marshawn Lynch, boxing champion Mike Tyson, New York Mets pitcher Trevor May and retired WNBA champion Renee Montgomery.
“When I first heard about a league controlled by fans it was shocking, which is what drew me to it,” Montgomery said in a statement. “Then I found out more about the league owners, the concepts and how well thought-out this league was, and I got really excited. It was a no-brainer as far as will it be a good investment or not. I knew that it was before the first season.”
Montgomery also has thoughts on how the league can be better, starting with increasing the number of teams. “Season v1.0 was sort of like a proof of concept season, and it’s clearly been a success,” she said. “So now a way to improve would be to expand.”
Expansion has already been in the back of Farudi’s mind. The FCF CEO said the league has plans to add at least two more teams for its next season, with a goal of 20 franchises in five years.