Bringing Fantasy Sports to the Bar With MyInteractiveVision

“Come on, girls,” my mom said with a heavy sigh. “This is getting ridiculous.”

It was a beautiful Sunday in September, and she was talking to my sister and me. We were sitting in a Montauk, NY, hotel room on a ladies weekend vacation/wedding-venue search mission. My mom was miffed because we were late to look at a lovely beach house to determine whether it might a good place to tie the knot. But there was a problem.

The bride-to-be, my sister Abby, was having a fantasy football crisis. A running back crisis, to be precise. She couldn’t decide whether to start BenJarvus Green-Ellis, known to fantasy geeks like us as “the Law Firm,” or Matt Forte. It was well past noon, which gave Abby only a few minutes to make the decision.

“Does Matthew Berry say anything about them in Love/Hate this week?” I asked Abby. Even though she’s the commissioner of our league and historically my mortal enemy in fantasy football, I couldn’t resist my big-sister impulse to help.

“Nope,” she answered.

“What’s the Yahoo projection?” I asked.

“One-point difference.”

“Can’t we have one Sunday where you two don’t spend the whole day obsessing about fantasy football?” my mom pleaded, surely remembering how last season’s fantasy playoffs had almost ruined Christmas. “They’re not even real teams!”

“Mom!” we growled simultaneously through gritted teeth as we furiously pawed our phone touchscreens.

I looked at the clock. “Crap, we missed Sit or Start.”

“This TV doesn’t get ESPN 2 anyway,” Abby said.

“Well,” I said to Abby after a few minutes spent analyzing the run defenses of each player’s opposing team. “I don’t know what to tell you—it’s a pretty even match. Go with your gut.”

I relate this anecdote not to embarrass my mother in print (though it certainly wouldn’t be the first time), or to point out that “go with your gut” is perhaps the only advice possible in the giant weekly crapshoot otherwise known as fantasy football. I tell this story because it illustrates just how all-consuming and pervasive fantasy sports have become. To paraphrase my mom: Really, you’re more concerned about Matt freaking Forte than the place where you and your fiance will tell your assembled loved ones that you intend to spend the rest of your lives together in holy matrimony?!?

“We did our research, and we saw that fantasy sports is a big industry,” says Jim Jung, who co-founded the Detroit startup MyInteractiveVision with Rob Freeman. “Rob and I don’t play, but we kept running into all kinds of professionals who did—older people and younger people. We found out the people playing it are very involved.”

According to Jung’s research, 30 million people play fantasy sports each year, and they spend more than $4 billion per year to be better players. There’s fantasy football, baseball, basketball, golf, hockey, and even NASCAR. Much like with NCAA basketball playoff pools, we’re in an era where even the office secretary wants to play fantasy football—never mind that she’s 55 and has never watched an entire NFL game in her life.

As any fantasy dork can tell you, it’s a game ruled by statistics. It doesn’t matter if the Detroit Lions never win another game; theoretically, Calvin Johnson will still be a top-rated fantasy receiver because he’s one of quarterback Matt Stafford‘s main targets. (If I’ve already lost you, go here for a better explanation—like most hardcore players, I don’t have much patience when it comes to explaining this stuff to the uninitiated.)

What’s missing from fantasy, Jung and Freeman say, is that it’s not especially conducive to socializing in sports bars.  Fantasy players don’t watch games so much as they watch stats, which is why those ever-present tickers run along the bottom of the screen during football games and why there’s an entire channel, NFL Red Zone, that’s devoted to cycling through all the day’s games and jumping from touchdown to touchdown in real time. But with MyInteractiveVision’s technology, developed at Wayne State University incubator TechTown, Jung and Freeman hope that will soon change.

“The people who like to hang out in sports bars are usually above average socioeconomically,” Jung notes. “But people are starting to stay home so they can watch TV with a laptop and check their fantasy scores. It’s hurting the sports bar industry.”

What MyInteractiveVision offers is a private network for bars, modeled after subscription trivia networks, that uses proprietary software to display a running total of live stats, player by player and position by position. Called MySportsVision, the network’s screen also includes a ticker with breaking sports news and integrated advertising. Every five minutes, a 15-second ad is shown as the content behind it grays out. But when the ad is over, the scrolling content picks up exactly where it left off—something that never happens with the TV stat tickers. (Once a channel cuts to commercial, the tickers stop and start over at the beginning, which sounds insignificant but can be tear-your-hair-out maddening when you’ve been waiting 10 minutes to see how your receivers are doing.)

Jung says that when he and Freeman were developing the software, they decided to test it in a local sports bar. “We just wanted to see the reaction,” he explains. “We found out the software works, that patrons loved being out in the open and not buried in their phones or calling someone else to see how their team’s doing. The bar owners loved it too. We saw people swarming around the screen.”

What also appeals to bar owners, Jung says, is that it allows them to put future events and specials on the screen and change them on the fly. Each screen is not only customizable to the bar, but also to advertisers. “Advertisers can address their ads to suburban locations differently than they would to urban locations,” he adds. “They can also do Spanish-language ads.” Jung says that the emergence of sports bars is a hot trend in China, and MySportsVision can come in a Mandarin version to accommodate that.

MyInteractiveVision plans to monetize its product through placement agreements with bars, though Jung says that cost will be minimal. The company also plans to sell advertising on the screen, and has already had a meeting with one of the Big Three automakers in search of capturing the relatively affluent fantasy demographic. “They told us fantasy players are their target demographic, but they don’t know how to reach them.”

Freeman says MyInterativeVision also plans to make its network interactive. After fantasy players complete a free registration process, the network will pull in their team information from Yahoo, CBS, ESPN, or Fox, considered the “big four” of fantasy platforms. Players will receive a unique indentifier code that they’ll be able to text to the network, which will allow them to see their team information live on the MySportsVision screen as they sit in the bar.

Eventually, Jung and Freeman envision a fully interactive network where players can use their identifier codes like digital wallets to purchase products off the screen. “Advertisers get to build a one-on-one relationship,” Freeman explains, adding that people will also be able to take their purchases viral by sharing them with social networks. “A lot of people are focused on smart phones right now, but our approach is the opposite. The app is something we’ll build down the road.”

Jung, who lives in Southwest Detroit, says they intend to build the company in the city and will formally launch in the first quarter of 2013. The company’s goal is to settle into a location close to Ford Field, where the Lions play. “We want to be in the heartbeat of Detroit, one of the great sports cities,” he says. “We’ve designed our operating system to scale quickly nationwide, but we are bound and determined to make this a Detroit success story.”

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