Marvin Williams watches the countdown on his computer screen, a messenger patiently awaiting his message.
That message, sent by the fans, is to be delivered to the players on the field.
Williams is the conduit between the two in Fan Controlled Football, a league in which fans call their team’s offensive plays. He stands in a booth situated just above the 10-yard line that serves as a high-tech poll center tabulating votes from around the world within seconds. When his computer screen lights up, displaying the winning play that has been voted on by fans, he relays the message.
“21 regular, 21 regular, 21 regular,” Williams says into his headset. “Twins left. Twins left. Ram. Jet right. Sweep right.”
The message is received by all seven offensive players on the field through a headset in their helmets. With that, they break the huddle and approach the line of scrimmage. The quarterback sets up in shotgun formation as one wide receiver is set in motion and another prepares to go deep.
But the players, the fan base and Williams know the ball is going to the superback, who takes a sweep right 17 yards to bring the Bored Ape FC to the one-yard line.
That’s when the countdown restarts and those in the booth, known as the Gameday Tech Team, immediately begin to prepare for the next play.
From the spotter to the statistician to the algorithm to the fans to the computer screen in front of Williams and, finally, to the players.
“21 regular, 21 regular, 21 regular. Twins left. Twins left. Storm,” says Williams, the messenger of Fan Controlled Football.
Fans may be in control in FCF, but it’s the tech team that gives them their power.
“The terminology would be this is where the sausage is made,” said John Brostrom, who helps oversee the tech team as gameday administrator.
The sausage-making role for the admin includes communicating with each member of the tech team, the broadcast booth and the referees on the field to relay fan-made decisions such as whether to use one of three power-ups or the results of replay-review voting.
It’s one of many roles held by Brostrom, known around the league as “JB.” An early investor in FCF, who occasionally even sings the National Anthem, Brostrom was drawn to the league by its innovation.
“It's just very gratifying to be out on the bleeding edge of the technology,” Brostrom said. “The business model is phenomenal. We're changing the way sports are played. You're changing the connection between fans and sports. And some would argue that you're really not changing it. We've been throwing pillows at the TV since the mid-sixties because the coach is an idiot and not calling the right play. So, we've been trying to do this forever. FCF just actually put it into action.”
Brostrom, whose background is in software, has stayed in Atlanta for the duration of each of the first two seasons of FCF, far from his home, and his wife, in Arizona. Traveling for his previous jobs, however, prepared the couple for life in FCF.
“As a married couple for 42 years coming up, we're used to that kind of travel,” Brostrom said with a laugh. “The answer my wife would give you is she hasn't seen me this excited about going to work in 30 years.”
Still in the early stages of his career is Matteo Lovece, a Syracuse University graduate with a passion for player personnel.
“I am basically JB in training, overseeing game admin,” Lovece said. “I don't think I've ever had so much control over so many people. In essence, everyone is watching what's on the field, but they're reacting to what we're doing up here.”
Just as players in FCF wear many helmets, with the league’s weekly drafts and with defenses and offensive-line units playing for two different teams each week, members of the tech team wear many hats.
That includes anything from filling water coolers to shuttling players to and from practice to doing some league accounting work.
“Whatever it takes so that on gameday they can sit in these seats and literally make the sausage,” Brostrom said.
For Lovece, extra duties include scouting, recruiting and signing players for the league. On gameday, he works closely with the training staff to stay updated on the most recent injuries, especially with a majority of players competing in two different games and uniforms per day, so rosters are fully updated in real-time with active players and accurate jersey numbers for the fans and production.
“We're kind of the middleman blending all phases of the game,” Lovece said. “And in reality, we don't have Fan Controlled Football without this team right here.”
THE STATKEEPERS AND POLLMAKER
Hayden Kilbuck was watching Fan Controlled Football from home last season when he decided to send a DM on Twitter to one of the league’s founders.
That led to a full-time job as play-calling statistician.
“Last year I was watching from home calling the plays for Johnny Manziel,” said Kilbuck, a recent graduate at Northwestern University. “Now I'm the one inputting the information and helping to make it all happen.”
Kilbuck communicates with a spotter on the opposite side of the field who helps inform where the ball has been placed after each play. Kilbuck then enters all necessary data for the play, including whether it was a run or pass, whether the pass was complete or incomplete, and, of course, down and distance.
“And then that goes back to the computer and our A.I. kind of calculates which plays are best based on the situation on the field,” Kilbuck.
The plays selected by the algorithm, chosen from a series of plays input by the coaching staff prior to the games, are then sent to the fans via the FCF app or Twitch and voted on in real-time.
“I grew up playing a lot of Madden and it's kind of just like calling the plays on Madden,” Kilbuck said. “Instead of controlling your player, you're watching it happen on the field.”
“I really get a feel for what the fans want,” said Genovesi, a recent University of Oklahoma graduate. “It's really cool to be a firsthand part of interacting with the fans and giving them the power because it's something that's never been done before. And, I think, it's a revolutionary thing that's going to really catch on.”
Watching closely is Andrew Torres, who inputs and logs each play and every stat for box scores and league leaderboards. It’s a process that must be completed accurately but efficiently after each play in order to provide information to the necessary outlets.
“It's, gosh, probably averaging about five seconds right now with getting each play inputted in and spit out,” Torres said.
Torres is also responsible for helping to setup the booth on gamedays, which he says can occasionally take up to an hour with multiple laptops, monitors, replay tablets, ethernet cables, extension cords and seemingly endless wiring. But for Torres, whose prior work experience was in fan relations, it’s all worthwhile.
“For me to see this all be fan-experience focused, it makes me happy because I'm so used to trying to bring smiles to people's faces. So, this means a lot to me to be able to be a part of this.”
Also playing a key part is Jack Genovesi, who is responsible for creating and posting all FCF poll questions and any voting decision that is not related to play-calling. That includes fan replay reviews, whether a team should use a power up, or a simple in-game question like, “Who is the better quarterback? Johnny Manziel or Kelly Bryant?”
A digital revolution that, last season, put fans in control of calling the play that ultimately won the championship. One of the fans who voted for that winning touchdown by Ed Crouch was Chase Doncer, better known in the FCF community by his username "SirDoom34."
“It all hits you when you start to understand we just got a touchdown and I called that play,” said Doncer, who is currently second on the Bored Apes Fan IQ leaderboard. “I had a direct impact on the situation. There’s a chance if I and whoever is with me did not vote for that play, that touchdown wouldn’t have happened. This whole situation could have played out so incredibly differently.
“So, I am more 110 percent more invested in this team than I’ve ever been with any other sports team in general.”
“Oh, hell yeah,” Williams says after the play-call appears on his computer screen. “Empty, empty, trips left. Empty, trips left. Fifty kid, six switch. Fifty kid, six switch.”
The 21-year-old Williams, an intern last year, was promoted to offensive coordinator of 8oki this season. He’s responsible for relaying play-calls in all games 8oki is not involved in, with Jeremy Liotta, the little brother of FCF head coach Shawn Liotta, filling in when Williams is on the sideline. But the majority of play-calls in Fan Controlled Football run through Williams.
“Everyone trusts me to do an important job, which is relay the play for the fans,” Williams said.
A former offensive lineman in high school, Williams also serves as offensive coordinator for his alma mater Calvary Baptist Academy in Louisiana, which he helped lead to a state championship in January 2021.
There, he has more direct control over the plays that are called. While in the booth with the tech team in FCF, he is the official middleman between fans and players.
“They keep the defense on their toes,” Williams said of the fans and their play-calling. “Our defense coaches stress all day and night thinking that we may have a trick play and all kinds of hard routes for them to cover. And it's our job to execute, no matter what the fans pick. If it's a trick play on the one-yard line or a fourth-and-20 run play, we gotta be able to execute it. And most of the time, we do.”
That’s why Williams believes the league is so innovative and the role of the tech team is so gratifying. A message travels from the fans, through the booth, to the players and is then executed on the field. Then the countdown on Williams’ computer screen begins and the process starts all over again.
“This is one of the greatest jobs any sport can ever have,” Williams said. “It’s the most electrifying, the most modernized. I look at it as a human video game. It is what our society needs in the age of technology. And not just in football, but in all sports, where these guys, they're just humans playing video games. I think it's great for the sport and it's great for the future of sports.”
Watch Fan Controlled Football every Saturday on NBCLX over the air, on cable, at LX.com and on your favorite streaming platform.