FourPlay Football Offers Fantasy Pick ‘Em Leagues with a Twist

I first started playing fantasy football in 1998, before Yahoo leagues, or channels wholly dedicated to jumping from game to game to show potential scoring drives from the end zone, or multiple talking heads earnestly spouting off about a made-up game each week.

Back then, when one still needed a dial-up modem to access the Internet, fantasy sports weren’t a multibillion-dollar enterprise. They were still mostly the domain of extreme nerds who enjoyed poring over stats and spreadsheets before (literally) mailing in their picks for the week.

Nowadays, people—ahem—plan weddings around their fantasy sports obligations. Some of us hardly pay attention to actual games in their entirety anymore. Fantasy owners aren’t content to spend an afternoon simply watching four quarters of football; instead, they want every matchup to potentially result in a high-stakes outcome, therefore transforming what could be a boring game between two teams the player cares nothing about into nail-biting entertainment.

But not everybody has the time to devote to maintaining a fantasy sports hobby, and those are the people FourPlay Football wants to reach. The Birmingham, MI-based startup bills itself as an alternative to weekly fantasy leagues; participants predict the winner of four NFL or NCAA football matchups on any given week instead of managing a full roster of players for the season’s duration.

“We are longtime fantasy players,” co-founder Jeff Johnson says. “We started in college, when you have lots of spare time. Suddenly, you’re in four or five leagues. Then, post-college, you don’t have time anymore and it’s hard to get it done.”

Johnson was still in college when he stumbled onto the game FourPlay is based upon, which was invented about 25 years ago by a group of football fans at the Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, MI. He soon became so taken with it that he persuaded co-founder CJ Karchon to start playing. After both found that they enjoyed this new form of fantasy football more than the original, they decided to build a business around automating it.

Johnson explains how FourPlay works, and like any on-paper explanation of fantasy sports, it’s easier to understand once you try it yourself: Each player picks four teams to win each week based on the spreads determined by the FourPlay app. (In addition to the spread, each matchup gets a 14-point buffer.)

If a player predicts all four winners correctly, the league’s losing teams must pay the winners in “juice,” a virtual currency FourPlay has devised. (The commissioner of each league sets the juice rate at the beginning of the season, and the juice must be paid out every week. For example, say it’s $10. If you win, you then collect $10 in juice from each losing team.) Juice is meant to ratchet up the excitement, as well as create league standings.

To entice players to sign up, FourPlay offers a $1 million prize to any player who completes a perfect season in a FourPlay Football league with 10 or more members. In addition, the prizewinner’s league commissioner would win $100,000 as a bonus for inviting them to the game. Johnson says the odds of winning the $1 million prize are one in 5 million for NFL leagues and one in 5.5 million for college leagues.

“There’s action on all the games, which makes it fun,” Karchon says. “You’re picking teams instead of players, so you’re not rooting for scenarios.”

The FourPlay Football app for iOS and Android is free, and Karchon says his company makes money through premium features. One is a scoring service called FP Live that’s available as a free trial until Oct. 11, but costs $15 after that. Other premium add-ons include staff gurus offering gameplay advice tailored to FourPlay’s rules, and a “pick revealer” that shows some of the previously confidential picks of a player’s highest-scoring opponents.

Both Johnson and Karchon describe the year-old FourPlay Football as a “passion project,” and neither is drawing a salary yet. Although the company has yet to pursue venture funding—that will come after they have two more seasons of metrics to show potential investors, the co-founders say—it has scored money from angel investors and friends and family. (Johnson says the patent-pending FourPlay concept is so appealing, the company had to turn away investors from an informal seed round.)

And while there’s no doubt that fantasy football has become as American a pastime as, well, football, it still exists in bit of a legal gray area. After a hard-fought battle, daily fantasy leagues of the kind offered by DraftKings and FanDuel are now fully legal in New York and Massachusetts. It remains to be seen, however, if other states will attempt to shutter the extremely lucrative industry.

Karchon says FourPlay is often asked about daily fantasy leagues and if they’re worried about the longevity of fantasy sports in general. He points out that once the … Next Page »

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Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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