Fan Controlled Football 101: What is it and How Does it Work?

Here's everything you need to know about the fan-run league ahead of its second season

Ever yelled at the TV screen while watching a football game? Thrown the remote across the room? Angrily asked a friend, “Why would they run that play?!”?

Each of those emotional reactions are the byproduct of being a fan, whose only impact on the game itself is typically measured in decibels while at the stadium. Fan Controlled Football has changed that by empowering fans, making them decision-makers rather than spectators.

Fans are given the power to pick every offensive play by voting in real time through the Fan Controlled Football app. The play call that receives the most votes is instantaneously relayed to the head coach and quarterback on the field.   

In addition to play-calling duties, fans also construct their team’s roster by voting on which players to draft, with some players in the league having NFL experience, like Johnny Manziel, who announced on Friday he’ll be returning for a second season. Fans also pick their team’s logo and jersey, make league rules and vote on the ruling for replay reviews. Oh, and they can even own part of the team.

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With the league’s second season set to begin on April 16 in Atlanta, here is everything you need to know about how Fan Controlled Football works. It might be of particular interest to those who have yelled at a TV, thrown a remote or questioned a play call.

“If you’ve ever done any of those three things, you can do that here and it actually works,” said Grant Cohen, co-founder of Fan Controlled Football. “The players will hear you. We’ve taken all the things that us sports fans have always done as part of our process of watching the game when we’re not really involved and used technology to make that an actual part of the game. So, if you’ve ever done one of those three things, you should be really happy because now when you do those things it actually matters.”

What is Fan Controlled Football?

It’s like a real-life version of “Madden,” combining elements of professional football and gaming.

FCF, which is expanding from four teams to eight in its second season, is an indoor football league with games played on a 50-yard field. It’s 7-on-7, with the standard offensive formation including a quarterback, super back, two wide receivers and three lineman.

All four games are played on Saturdays each week at Pullman Yards in Atlanta, where a 1,500-seat, state-of-the-art arena is being retrofitted at one of the site’s structures.

The concept, a fully interactive football league run entirely by fans, originated after the FCF founders - Cohen, Sohrob Farudi, Patrick Dees and Ray Austin - bought two indoor football league teams in 2016. One was run as a traditional team, the other was run by fans.     

“The fan-run team did way better than the non-fan-run team by every measure,” Cohen said. “Not only did they beat them on the field, but they scored more points and had more touchdowns. All their offensive stats were better and then all the business stats were better. Sold more tickets. More people watched the game.”

The four founders left the league after one season and went on to launch Fan Controlled Football, which debuted last year in a bubble environment at the Infinite Energy Center in Georgia during the pandemic. The season was capped with “The People’s Championship,” where the Wild Aces defeated the Glacier Boyz, 46-40, on a last-second QB sneak called by the fans.

How do fans watch Fan Controlled Football?

All four games, which take about an hour each, will be broadcast every Saturday on NBCLX and streamed on Twitch. The first session starts with a doubleheader at 1 p.m. ET, and the second session offers another doubleheader beginning at 7 p.m. ET.

The upcoming nine-week season will kick off on April 16 with the Glacier Boyz against the Beasts and the Knights of Degen against the Bored Ape FC. The season has seven regular-season weeks and one playoff week, culminating with the People’s Championship.

How do fans pick the plays?

With the help of technology that allows fans to act as a long-distance coach.

The league has one unified playbook, with some variation based on team makeup and player skill set. Prior to each game, coaches input eligible plays based on down, distance and game situation. Ahead of each down, an algorithm determines which of those plays would be best for that particular situation, giving fans a series of running and passing plays to vote on. Fans submit their vote, the system tabulates voting results in real time, and a stringer in the arena relays the selected play to the team’s head coach and quarterback via headset.   

Fans accumulate points for each successful play that they select to build FanIQ and unlock badges. FCF tracks fan stats with a leaderboard showing yardage and touchdown leaders and even names a Most Valuable Fan, with the votes of those playing the longest and most successfully holding more weight.  

“The more fan IQ you earn, the more badges you unlock, the more badges you unlock, the more power your vote has,” Cohen said. “Not every vote is created equal.”

But before picking plays, fans must first pick a team …

How do fans pick a team?

Unlike most sports leagues, fan loyalty in FCF is not necessarily determined by geographic location.

“All of our teams are in one place,” Cohen said. “So, you can be a fan of them from anywhere.”

Rather than being represented by cities, FCF teams are built around the brand identity of a celebrity ownership group.

The original four teams include the Beasts, owned by Super Bowl champion Marshawn Lynch, wrestler Miro and two-time WNBA champion Renee Montgomery; the Glacier Boyz, owned by Super Bowl champion Richard Sherman, musician Quavo, YouTube sensation Deestroying and Twitch streamer Adin Ross; the Zappers, owned by social media star Bob Menery, New York Mets pitcher Trevor May, Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook and gaming influencer Ronnie Singh; and the defending league champions that underwent an ownership change and rebrand, the Shoulda Been Stars, owned by comedian Druski, TV personality Rachel Lindsay and Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler.

To become a fan of one of those four teams, which make up the OG Division, simply go to the FCF app or website and register in order to receive voting power.

To become a fan of one of the four expansion teams that make up the Ballerz Division, fans first must mint one of 8,888 NFTs built for each team to unlock access.

Those four teams include 8oki, owned by famed DJ and producer Steve Aoki and crypto leader 888; the Kingpins, featuring former Atlanta Falcons running back Jamal Anderson as one of the team owners; the Bored Ape Football Club, owned by NFL strategists like tropoFarmer and Josh Ong and photographer Lindsey Byrnes; and the Knights of Degen, with a large ownership group that includes Tiki and Ronde Barber and NFL Network's Cynthia Frelund.

If you're not already watching Fan Controlled Football you're missing out. FCF commissioner Ray Austin joins NBCLX to explain why his league is the perfect fit for the digitally-savvy football fan.

How do fans pick the rosters?

With fantasy football becoming reality.

Owners first designate a handful of franchise tag players, meaning they remain with one team for the duration of the season, and fans of each team vote on who to select. On the Wednesday before opening weekend, the first of three drafts is conducted with fans deciding who their team should pick from a player pool that includes some former professional and college players who have aspirations of playing in the NFL.

The snake draft, similar to what is used in fantasy football, is conducted on the FCF app as fans vote in real time on which player their team should select each round. The app interface provides sortable stats for players and allows fans to queue those they are hoping to draft. Quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers are selected individually, while offensive lines and defenses are drafted as a group.

Teams have the option to franchise-tag additional players after the first game. Remaining players are redrafted by fan vote ahead of the second game. The third and final draft for non-tagged players is held ahead of Week 3.

“Whatever team you roll out for Week 3, that’s your team,” Cohen said. “That way there is continuity for the rest of the season and the playoffs.”  

What are some of the most unique rules in Fan Controlled Football?

Well, it all begins with Rock, Paper, Scissors instead of a coin toss to determine who gets the ball first.

One representative from each team meets at midfield prior to the game to square off: 

There are no kickoffs, field goals, extra points, onside kicks, punts or kicking of any kind in Fan Controlled Football. After scoring a touchdown, teams have the option of going for an extra point on a one-on-one play between a receiver and cornerback from the five-yard line, or a two-point conversion from the 10-yard line.

The games, lasting approximately an hour each, are fast-paced with two 20-minute halves and a running clock.

Fans vote on league rules, with everything from overtime format to what constitutes a catch determined by the majority.   

Players are encouraged to showcase their personalities, with the league handing out bonuses each week for best touchdown celebration and postgame interview.

Then there are some really unorthodox rules (more on those coming soon), all created with the objective of providing an innovative and fun environment for fans who went from yelling at the TV and throwing the remote to calling the shots and impacting the game.

“That’s what we strive for,” Cohen said. “They say the NFL is the No Fun League, we are the more fun league.”