Who are the best fans in the nation? The question has been debated on bar stools and message boards across the country, with no clear scientific answer. Until now.
So say Hunter Browning and Will Coatney, whose Fannect app may at last definitively rank the most devoted fanbases in sports — and determine every pro team and university's No. 1 fan.
"The most fundamental core of Fannect is proving who has the best sports fans," Coatney, 24, says. In the past, he adds, there was no metric "to quantitatively prove who has the best fans." So the two men have set out to build a platform that would fill that void.
"I wanted to let fans compete to be the best fan at their school and also earn their school points," says Browning, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Kansas. (He's about to take a semester off to focus on Fannect.) "We want this to be the platform to measure fans' passion, dedication and knowledge of their team and of their team against other teams."
Browning was watching a Chiefs game when he first wondered how fans could become more engaged in the action. Coatney, whom Browning had met through a mutual friend, brings a Web-development background and a lot of connections to complement his partner's training in engineering and physics. It's a combination with serious legs: Fannect has raised $300,000 so far, a figure likely to grow after launch.
When Fannect goes live November 20 (pending Apple's approval), it will feature every major NCAA school as well as every MLB, MLS, NHL, NFL and NBA franchise. The app — so far only for Apple, though a website will allow anyone to play — is designed to capture the social aspect of sports. It combines the functionality of Foursquare with a social component similar to Facebook.
As on Foursquare, fans check in, in this case with games and watch parties. Those check-ins earn points, as does getting a picture taken with players and coaches, guessing scores and building a roster of friends.
"Since we're all fans, we really do get what fans are looking for," Browning says.
Which means that even the sign-up process is a game. In a note that recalls the exclusivity of Facebook's first period, Fannect users must hit a threshold (100 people) to unlock a favorite team or school. Networks for KU and Mizzou, Sporting KC, the Royals and Chiefs have already activated, Browning says. He adds, "We expect the other networks to be turned on within days."
Browning and Coatney subscribe to the mantra that an app dies without regular updates, so they've lined up more games to launch after the first 30 days.
Their hope is that, a year from now, Fannect will have become a major part of college and pro sports. They envision fans whipping out their smartphones for bragging rights.
Both men admit that they'd like for ESPN, Yahoo or some other company with deep pockets to buy Fannect eventually, so that they can pursue other projects. Browning says it's not about money — he just wants Fannect to pay for his deeper scientific ambitions. He studied at Blue Valley Schools' Center for Advanced Professional Studies and taught himself quantum mechanics and nuclear physics through MIT online programs in high school, and he holds patents that may lead to a hydrogen fuel cell to power cars. ("We didn't get to take it as far as the theory would permit because we ran out of money," he says.)
The idea is for the next thing to benefit more people than just sports fans. "You only have so long that you're here," Browning says. "You might as well make some impact."