LAS VEGAS -- Many sports fans are content to watch games on television and attend occasional live events by sitting in the cheap seats, but the real fanatics want to be as close to the action as possible.
Downtown Las Vegas tech startup Fandeavor plans to satisfy those dreams by offering fan experiences that the company hopes are too good to pass up for those who can afford to spend a little extra.
The idea comes courtesy of co-founders Tom Ellingson and Dean Curtis, two former employees of online clothing retailer Zappos.com who left their jobs in June as business development director and web programmer respectively to run Fandeavor.
"We're both big sports fans and at Zappos, when we were doing corporate sponsorships, we got crazy access to teams," said Ellingson, a former KLAS-TV reporter. "It's great that we had that access but we thought, what if that same access went to fans? We thought it would be great if fans could get geeked up over this stuff. Fans would salivate."
As an experiment in November, Ellingson and Curtis arranged for two sets of fans to attend the Las Vegas Invitational basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena. Two fans who paid a combined $250 to watch the UNLV Runnin' Rebels beat the University of Southern California in the semi-finals and two others who paid $275 to see the Rebels defeat the University of North Carolina in the finals received the following: Seats in an arena suite, a pre-game "chalk talk" from an assistant UNLV coach, floor access for pre-game warmups, halftime presentation on the court of a basketball signed by coaches in the tournament, and mention of their names over the public address system.
For the Aug. 5 soccer match at Sam Boyd Stadium between Real Madrid and Santos Laguna, Fandeavor auctioned off an experience to a fan who paid $575 to watch the game from a VIP hospitality tent on the field and enjoy all the food and drink he could handle. By chance he even met a player.
Fans of the Professional Bull Riders circuit have a chance to purchase experiences at October competitions in Philadelphia and at UNLV's Thomas & Mack Center that include the following: seats directly above the chutes where the bulls enter the arena; a tour of the facilities, including the area where the bulls are kept; chances to meet the competitors; access to a VIP party; and a gift bag. This package can cost as much as $1,100 for two tickets.
But Fandeavor is placing most of its initial emphasis on college football and basketball, having reached revenue-sharing agreements so far with marketing agents representing UNLV, University of Southern California, Arizona State University and Texas Christian University. Ellingson and Curtis are banking on the premise that college sports fans are even more passionate than those of professional leagues.
Fandeavor co-founder and former Zapponian and KLAS-TV reporter Tom Ellingson
"We want to give the colleges a revenue stream that didn't exist before," said Ellingson, who is partial toward the University of Washington. "They have assets that they may not be using up, like sideline passes. We want to help them monetize their hospitality assets.
"One thing we want to do is give out stadium tours, which is something that doesn't cost the university anything other than to have someone give the tour. We'd like to have the ability to get a fan into a press box when the announcers are going through their pre-game routines. We'd like them to have access to the locker room and weight room. These stadiums are shrines."
Curtis, a UNLV graduate who follows Purdue University because he's a native of Indiana, said: "I like to think of these stadiums as modern-day cathedrals."
For UNLV football home games this season against the University of Minnesota, Washington State University and the University of Nevada, Reno, Fandeavor is offering not only choice seats, but footballs autographed by head coach Bobby Hauck, a tour of Sam Boyd Stadium, pre-game invitation to a hospitality event and field access as the Rebels enter the stadium.
Fandeavor co-founers Dean Curtis(L) and Tom Ellingson(R)
"We're trying to push local football because we want to see the program do real well," Curtis said.
If all goes well at the college level, Ellingson said he and his business partner are willing to branch out into the National Football League, National Basketball Association and NASCAR. Indeed, they have already had discussions with some pro teams and facilities, including Las Vegas Motor Speedway. And the company already has raised $525,000 in financing from investors, including Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, to help with marketing and potential future expansion.
"We're not going to be a cheap alternative for attending games but you'll be getting access you can't get anywhere else," Ellingson said.