Big sports fans often shell out big money to support their favorite teams.
They buy season tickets for home games, fly to away games and stock up on piles of merchandise. Sometimes, they get team tattoos. Their loyalty — and spending — knows no boundaries.
A Las Vegas startup is trying to capitalize on those obsessions by placing hardcore fans even closer to the action.
Fandeavor, a “gameday-experience company,” sells fantasy packages for college football and basketball games, NASCAR races and other sporting events. For several hundred dollars, customers can buy behind-the-scenes tours of stadiums or arenas, on-field or on-court access before games, even meet-and-greets with athletes or coaches.
Headed by former TV news reporter Tom Ellingson, Fandeavor has sold a couple hundred packages since it began in August 2012 and inked partnerships with UNLV, Arizona State University and Texas Christian University. The company raised $525,000 in investor capital, mostly from the VegasTechFund, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s investment group.
Spending hundreds of dollars to get up close and personal with a team might sound crazy to some, but not to Dustin Clark.
The 25-year-old from Shelley, Idaho, flew to Las Vegas in December to watch the Boise State University football team play the University of Washington in the Maaco Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium.
The day before the game, Clark ate lunch with Boise State players and coaches and got on stage for a pep rally at the Fremont Street Experience.
On game day, he went to an ESPN party and got a private tour of the stadium’s locker rooms, media areas and luxury suites. He went on the field and watched players warm up. When it was game time, Clark was on the sidelines — not far from the Boise State players, who won 28-26. He also was invited by an ESPN crew member to stop by the network’s trailer to check out camera gear.
Clark didn’t attend Boise State, but he loves the team. He spends up to $3,500 a year going to their football games. His wife got him the $500 Fandeavor package as a Christmas/birthday gift.
“It was amazing,” he said.
Like many other Las Vegas startups, Fandeavor has close ties to Zappos. Members of Fandeavor’s management team — CEO Ellingson, Software Developer Dean Curtis and Content Manager Darren Flores — each spent three years working at the online retailer.
They used to run Fandeavor rent-free from an eighth-floor apartment in the downtown Ogden, courtesy of Hsieh’s Downtown Project but recently moved to Work in Progress, the Downtown Project's collective workspace on South Sixth Street.
Fandeavor typically designs its fantasy packages with representatives from the host teams but markets and sells them itself. Ellingson’s group keeps 30 to 40 percent of the revenue and gives the rest to the team.
At Zappos, Ellingson helped manage the company's sports marketing efforts. When teams pitched Zappos sponsorship deals, Ellingson was shown locker rooms, introduced to team executives and given other exclusive access. He enjoyed the perks and wondered how much an average fan would pay for them.
He and Curtis hatched a plan for the startup, and Curtis spent a few weeks building its website.
The first fantasy package they sold was for the November 2011 Las Vegas Invitational basketball championship game between UNLV and the University of North Carolina at the Orleans. The package let two fans watch the game from a suite and awarded them an autographed ball, presented at center court during halftime. Two local UNLV graduates bought it for between $400 and $500 through an online auction.
The Rebels won the game. The buyers had a great time and promised to buy a few packages a year.
“Little did they know, we didn’t really have more experiences lined up,” Ellingson said.
More than a year later, 50 fantasy packages are for sale on Fandeavor’s website.
For $750, 10 people can play a full-court pickup basketball game for an hour and use the locker rooms at the Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, Ariz., home to Arizona State University.
For $799, a fan can watch the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series NRA 500 in Texas from a suite, get a close-up look at the stock cars and attend drivers’ meetings to hear their strategies for the race.
According to the NASCAR listing: “You won’t be able to get this kind of access anywhere else.”