fanhoodMore than 500 million people are sports fans. That’s why Brandon Ramsey is optimistic. Ramsey is chief executive of Fanhood, which has launched its sports-betting game on Facebook and has more than 170,000 users.

Fanhood is one of many social sports virtual-betting startups such as RocketPlayOHK Labs (SportsPicker Challenge), Pickmoto, Bragstr, and BetHubb — all of whom debuted in the past four months. So far, Ramsey believes he has amassed the biggest audience, though he acknowledges the game genre is still in its infancy. Bigger players have also joined the market, including, PrePlay, ESPN, Bwin, and Yahoo. All of them hope to repeat the success of social casino games such as Zynga’s Texas HoldEm Poker, which has more than 30 million monthly active users.

“There are a lot of good, solid teams dedicated to this market,” Ramsey said in an interview with GamesBeat. “The fact that the big guys are in this market tells us that it’s going to be big. We believe we’re leading the industry in engagement.”

With the Super Bowl coming up, followed by March Madness, Ramsey believes the social sports betting market will get new traction. His own company is gearing up to add more features for March Madness betting — which is followed by an estimated 75 million people. Fans can join during any week in the social-betting for March Madness. The leaderboards show who is ahead at any given time. And when there isn’t a game going on, you can answer sports trivia questions and challenge friends in a contest.

“Even the occasional fans will fill out a March Madness bracket and become fans of a team for a short time,” Ramsey said. “We think we can make that experience even more social.”

fanhood 3

All of these companies are anticipating that there will be a big companion market to go along with real-money sports betting. But while social sports gaming fans can spend real money on virtual coins for betting on sports events, they can’t collect their winnings in cash.

Sean Ryan, the director of game partnerships at Facebook, recently said with us in an interview with GamesBeat that “sports fantasy apps are certainly an area that was underrepresented” on Facebook. Now more of the games are coming out in part because the social casino game market is already flooded with more than 100 games.

“People have seen the massive success of social casino games, but there are a lot more sports fans than there are poker fans,” Ramsey said.

Most of the games are meant to create another “second screen” experience, where players can interact with the game while watching sports on TV.

San Francisco-based Fanhood features all major professional and college sports, and it offers users a gathering place to engage fellow fans through friendly wagers, challenges, pools, trivia games, and more. Ramsey said the company has grown without any heavy-duty marketing efforts so far. Players can engage in trash talk as they bet.

Fanhood launched its game in October and has been quietly gaining momentum.

The idea is to catch fans while they’re chatting with their friends and watching TV sports at the same time. Fanhood wants to modernize fantasy sports — a $1.5 billion market enjoyed by 35 million people in the U.S. — for the social-networking generation. Users can talk openly on a forum and offer views on players, teams, or games. On top of that, regulated online sports wagering is an estimated $7 billion market.

Ramsey previously founded and served as head engineer at Yahoo! Shopping, Yahoo! Deals, and Yahoo! Travel. He says he has dedicated a lot of resources to infrastructure, technology development, and a “dream team” of talent that formerly worked at Yahoo, Zynga, and Slide. The company has raised capital from prominent investors First Round Capital, Mayfield Fund, and Foundation Capital. That backing is going to help the company in the race with all its rivals.

Fanhood hopes to take advantage of social networking to find the right people for you to bet against. As an example, if you say your favorite team is the 49ers in your social network profile, then Fanhood will search through your friend graph and find fans of the Chicago Bears — just before the two teams play each other. It will then prompt you to place a bet on which team will win.

“We built a system to find affinity for players,” Ramsey said. “We do the work of finding the friends who will bet on an opposing team.”

Ramsey said that about 32 percent of users invite an average of 53 friends.

Fanhood has 12 employees and four contractors. The team is working on a mobile app in addition to its Facebook game.

fanhood 2