Anyone who’s ever played fantasy sports has endured those agonizing minutes hoping a certain wide receiver might fall a few spots to his or her draft pick, but a startup company is empowering fantasy players to be proactive in filling out one’s roster.
AR Sports uses a randomized algorithm to disperse virtual NFL players within a certain geographic radius of each fantasy participant. Procuring a player is no longer done with a mouse click but through augmented reality. Rather than than throwing a red-and-white ball at Pokémon characters, in AR Sports, one throws a football to snare a running back onto the roster.
“If you ever access Uber, you see yourself and then you see a bunch of cars driving around you,” AR Sports founder Lenny Parisi, whose day job is as an investment adviser in Midtown Manhattan. “So, now, you see a bunch of players. You can see, does this guy have a blue uniform? Is he No. 13? OK, you know what, there’s a good chance Odell Beckham is on Third Avenue right now between 42nd and 43rd [Street], so let me take my lunch right now and go out there and capture him before he leaves.”
Parisi makes clear that his patent-pending software won’t be its own standalone league but, instead, he hopes, another dimension layered on top of existing platforms housed at NFL.com, ESPN, Yahoo or CBSSports.com. Rather than the staid draft and waiver wire process, AR Sports enables players to add some adventure to the roster-building process.
Here’s the idea: the universe of available NFL players rotate through each fantasy league member’s geographic area (using a smartphone’s GPS) for a period of time. Tom Brady might be in one player’s neighborhood in the morning and another’s in the afternoon until someone is swift enough to go capture him. Members who live near each other could compete for the same players, turning the dash for Le’Veon Bell into a race. Preparing for the fantasy season might be less mock draft than mile jog.
League members can set up push notifications to alert them when targeted players enter their area. If there are 10 members in a league, then 10 percent of all NFL players will be nearby at all times. Instead of a randomized draft order, then randomized location changes will help ensure fairness and competitive integrity. (The league commissioner will have discretion in determining how long the draft process will take, how wide the geographic radius is, how frequently the players rotate areas and so on.)
“This is going to be built for the 10- to 24 year-old. This is not going to be built for a 44-year-old guy like myself,” Parisi said. “It’s not going to replace fantasy. It’s going to be an addition, an enhancement to fantasy. Hopefully the objective of this would be to usher in a whole new generation of fantasy sports players. That’s the target.”
The Fantasy Sports Trade Association reports that, during 2016, a whopping 34 percent of all youth aged 12-to-17 played some fantasy sports, nearly double the rate at which adults played, at 18 percent. In other words, a game targeting such a young demographic has a “pretty sizable market,” FSTA president Peter Schoenke said, noting that no one in the industry had quite succeeded in adding secondary challenges and games on top of the classic fantasy sports model.
“I find it really intriguing and promising that somebody’s trying to take fantasy sports and apply it to [augmented] reality,” Schoenke, who is also the president of Rotowire, said, adding: “This could open up an avenue to a lot of new types of players and people playing more fantasy.”
Parisi said the idea for his start-up arose last summer over drinks with friends at the Wynn Las Vegas. It was the height of the Pokémon GO craze, and Parisi, who has been playing fantasy sports with his Rutgers fraternity brothers ever since they graduated college 22 years ago, had the epiphany of adding an augmented reality option to fantasy sports.
AR Sports will generate revenue through an embedded interactive advertising model for which Parisi has also filed a patent. While league members are scouring the neighborhood for NFL players, they will also a series of virtual ads scattered throughout their augmented world. Because everyone will be required to turn on their phone’s location-sharing option, advertisers can target on a hyper-local basis and accumulate a wealth of customer data. Parisi gave two examples: sports drink ads could pop up periodically, and if a fantasy player swipes on, say, five of them, he or she will be emailed a coupon for a free beverage; or if a player enters within a mile of a particular pizza chain, the restaurant logo appears offering free wings with a large pie.
So far, Parisi is self-funding the venture and has contracted Brandon Witte — the president/CEO of software company SightLine Systems — to be his chief technology officer who has built the early prototype. Parisi said he has attended two FSTA trade meetings and had preliminary conversations with some of the pro sports leagues and heavy hitter fantasy sites about incorporating his idea, with hope that it could be implemented for the 2018 season.
AR Sports remains in an early stage, but Parisi is proud to report that at least one youngster is already hooked on the idea of having the experience of capturing a player rather than just drafting him. Even though every NFL player in the early prototype looks the same and all wear No. 20, Parisi’s 11-year-old son keeps building his fictitious roster, telling his dad the other day: “I just saw a guy in the backyard, so I went out and caught him.”