That guy at the bar who says the U.S. doesn’t care about soccer is delusional.
According to Nielsen, 26.5 million people in the U.S. watched the 2014 World Cup final. Facebook reported that 48 million U.S.-based fans talked about the tournament on its network from June 12 to July 13 last year. This past weekend, more than 62,000 spectators packed the Orlando Citrus Bowl to see Kaka, a former FIFA World Player of the Year, debut in Major League Soccer.
So, hey, guy who refuses to acknowledge that the word “football” can also apply to a sport that uses a round ball, soccer is a pretty big deal — even in ‘Merica.
For American soccer entrepreneurs, now is the time to pursue that golden goal of achieving victory — whether it’s on or off the field. And that’s exactly what Adam Davis, CEO and cofounder of Soccer Without Limits (SWOL), plans to do with his company’s upcoming mobile game, Fury 90. I interviewed Davis, along with SWOL investors and star footballers Jerome Boateng, Alejandro Bedoya, and Philippe Senderos, about the ambitious project.
“I actually was an agent before starting the company and lived in Germany and Brazil for over five years, representing soccer talent,” Davis said. During his time as an agent, Davis met former Arsenal player Danny Karbassiyoon, who had become a scout for the English club. The two went on to found SWOL, which is based out of San Francisco and London.
“We wanted to leverage a lot of the social capital that we had built up in the space with very famous soccer players and influencers into something more scalable online … into something more entertaining for fans than what was going on in the space,” Davis said. “[SWOL] actually began as … more like a Bleacher Report sort of content site for soccer fans. We had a big team of contributors that was posting content.”
With the increasing popularity of fantasy sports online, particularly with the advent of one-day experiences like FanDuel and DraftKings, SWOL decided to change its direction. “Now, we’ve actually pivoted into Fury 90 and the fantasy game that we’re building,” Davis added.
The SWOL team aims to release the mobile-focused Fury 90, which lets players build teams and simulate fantasy matchups in 90 seconds. It uses an algorithm that incorporates real-life stats to determine outcomes. Individuals will be able to play against friends, famous soccer players, and celebrities. As Davis puts it, “The punchline for Fury 90 is, ‘The drama of 90 minutes in 90 seconds.’ We’ve essentially created a fantasy-simulation game with social mechanics in it.”
People will get to download the app for free while having the option to make in-app purchases. “The monetization strategy is freemium, basically applying social-gaming methods to a fantasy [sports] game. So, very similar to how Clash of Clans and these different games are selling in-app purchases, basically selling time to some of their users. That’s the route we’re taking,” Davis said.
Fury 90’s approach to fantasy sports is unconventional, and Davis believes this will give the title an edge. “The problem with traditional fantasy [sports] … is the model is fairly broken in terms of just creating your team and being idle throughout the entire week and waiting to find out if you’ve won or lost.” He hopes Fury 90’s quick-fire nature will resonate with its target audience. “This new generation likes instantaneous satisfaction … in gameplay. So, we’re allowing them to build fantasy teams but then simulate games against their friends and the celebrities that we have involved.”
A key component of Fury 90 is this celebrity factor. SWOL has brought in well-known players to comprise a “Board of Ballers” — a group of prominent soccer stars who will not only market the title but also have a central role in its gameplay.
Boateng, a defender for current World Cup holders Germany and European super squad Bayern Munich, is a prominent member of the board. “I love the concept [Davis] showed me, and I’m looking forward to leading the Board of Ballers as we grow internationally,” he said. “With the growth of daily fantasy sports and games [featuring celebrities] — like the Kim Kardashian game — doing so well, our potential is exciting, having a team of players attached.”
Giving fans a chance to go head-to-head against the Board of Ballers provides Fury 90 with a unique selling point that could separate it from competing mobile soccer experiences like Nordeus’ Top Eleven 2015 and EA’s FIFA 15 Ultimate Team. U.S. national team standout and Fury 90 baller Bedoya is confident the project can go far. “I think mobile gaming in … soccer is still a little bit in its infancy, to be honest. … Seeing things out there and doing some research, [Fury 90 has] great potential, I believe,” he said.
Bedoya, who also plays for FC Nantes in France, joined Davis and SWOL because he saw an intriguing opportunity. “I have an entrepreneurial spirit. Soccer doesn’t last forever. … What made me attracted to [SWOL] was the team that they’ve built. [Davis] has a lot of knowledge in the football world … as well as his partner [Karbassiyoon]. … It’s kind of tough to find two better connected guys in [the] international-soccer spectrum.”
Senderos, who plays for Aston Villa of the English Premier League and the Swiss national team, echoes this enthusiasm. “Now with social media, people can contact you. You might be able to answer them, but you can’t really play against them. … This is really the future — a mobile app where you can actually play against celebrities and players,” Senderos said.
“I think the gaming space is huge, and [it] appeals to a lot of people. … I’m really excited about it. I know the other players who are part of the Board of Ballers are very excited,” he continued.
While SWOL knows how it’ll gain funds from Fury 90, it continues to seek out capital to support the project. “We actually went through a mobile accelerator … in Silicon Valley called Momentum Mobile Accelerator, [which] is also an investor,” Davis said. In addition, SWOL has received funds from Kipp Lassetter, who founded and sold the health-information company Medicity to Aetna for $500 million.
The ballers themselves are investors and marketers according to Davis, which brings an interesting dynamic to their involvement in Fury 90. “For me it’s a great feeling [to be an investor and equity holder]. … I’m proud to be a part of it,” Boateng said. “It’s about technology. It’s about the game, and I never had this before. It’s a completely new thing for me.”
Bedoya added, “[Fury 90 is] an innovative product. [SWOL is] very ambitious, as well as I am, to grow the brand internationally as well as the product.”
Senderos showed similar passion. “I’m interested in tech. … And to have a game like this where I could be involved is definitely something that I didn’t hesitate to join,” he said.
Having a direct stake in the success of Fury 90 should motivate the players even more to engage their fans within the mobile experience. “Football players do get competitive. I won’t want to lose many games, so I will try and go back to the game and make sure I [won’t] get beat so much. So, I’m sure fans will definitely want to beat celebrities and football players, and that will definitely be an added appeal to the game,” Senderos said.
“That’s what excites me the most … is that engagement with fans and the other players as well as building that exclusive network … with other athletes and celebrities that get on the game,” Bedoya said. “The social-media aspect of it I think makes it cool. A big part of competition is being able to talk smack to others, so to speak. And I think that engagement amongst fans and athletes and celebs … that brings us close.”
Fury 90 remains in development. SWOL beta-tested the game during the last World Cup, and Davis mentioned that his team came away with positive results. “Lukas Podolski, who played for Germany in the World Cup, actually played over 400 times in Fury 90 during the … tournament,” he said. A closed beta continues for the project.
SWOL hopes to launch Fury 90 on Android and iOS this August — to coincide with the beginning of the next European soccer season. Davis wants to eventually localize the game for multiple regions across the world.
“If I can look back in a year from now and say that we’re on Android, we’re on iOS, we’re in 40-plus soccer languages, and in every one of those markets, we have a professional player as an ambassador for our game and involved in the Board of Ballers … then I think we’ll be in a really good spot,” he said.