Fan Controlled Football (FCF): A Unique Project to Digitalise American Football?

Could FCF be the future of fan-involvement in sport?

Image: Wikimedia Commons / U.S. Army Garrison - Miami

Image: Wikimedia Commons / U.S. Army Garrison - Miami

Over a year has passed since COVID-19 and its ensuing restrictions took over our lives. The sporting world saw disturbances across national and international events: the Olympics and Euros were delayed, the NBA season was suspended indefinitely, and Wimbledon was cancelled for the first time since 1945, to name just a few.

With such uncertainty around major leagues and international tournaments, the circumstances were ideal for FCF to flourish. And that it did.

Its increased presence on social media and within mainstream American sports publications (such as Sports Illustrated), have bolstered FCF’s fanbase exponentially over the course of the past year.

Founded in 2017, FCF is a futuristic project that fuses elements of e-sports and gaming with a high intensity brand of American football, with rules like the NFL. Fans have likened the football to a Madden 21 game mode named ‘The Yard’.

Image: Wikimedia Commons / WP:NFCC#4

Image: Wikimedia Commons / WP:NFCC#4

The football is played seven-versus-seven on a small indoor field. With very few stoppages and a smaller area, the game is much more fluid and explosive than the NFL. With most matches lasting an hour (two 20-minute halves with breaks), FCF games are much shorter than those of the NFL (average three-hour games).

FCF is distinct from just normal ‘street football’ though. As suggested in the name, the teams are almost fully controlled by fans. Paying to become a member comes with privileges as members vote on decisions from running the franchise down to how the game is played.

That is to say that members of teams can decide who their team signs and can also control the on-field play-calling.

Think of Football Manager, the widely loved football simulation game that gives you the chance to implement your own philosophy into a club. FCF is essentially that except, most importantly, your decisions affect the club in real life.

“The time is now for fan-controlled sport,” said Andy Dolich on SportBusiness.

Supporting a team becomes much easier when it feels that your ideas are valued just as much as you value the team. Feel frustrated with a team you support? Questioning the decisions of owners? These ‘frustrations’ of supporting a team in any sport seem somewhat neutralised thanks to the fan-centric approach of FCF.

The empowerment of the fan is taken even more literally than that though. Prior to lockdown restrictions, fans were permitted to watch the games at the miniature stadiums. The seating was snug and tight against the side of the field, allowing fans to be right up against the action.

In addition to this, the games are streamed on Twitch, where the comment section provides somewhat of a fan atmosphere (albeit a virtual one). But the usage of Twitch makes the matches incredibly accessible and is symbolic of its physical/virtual crossover.

With most of the interaction done digitally (via the app), there is certainly a video game element to FCF that feels modern and energising. In an age where e-sports attracts an ever-growing viewership, it is no surprise to see FCF build its own momentum.

“How can football video games get more realistic? Real humans,” said the Wall Street Journal.

All that is just one side of it though. Much of the appeal lies in the football itself.

Though the athletes are not world-beaters (most are largely unknown), the football is still high quality and gives a platform for aspiring NFL athletes who failed to make the cut for one reason or another.

The fast pace of the game cuts out the tedious waiting experienced in NFL games as the action is relentless. Touchdown after touchdown, big play after big play, FCF is explosive and fun to watch. The commentary is also exhilarating and feels much more energising than the ‘suited men’ of NFL broadcasts.

With the NFL offseason in full flow after the climax that was Super Bowl 55, many NFL fans have found themselves dabbling in FCF as a boredom breaker.

The reviews have mostly been good, with many fans feeling that FCF’s league could prove to be a “second division” to the NFL. This was reinforced by the appearance of former NFL wide receiver, Josh Gordon, in the FCF league. He joined former Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel, who found little success in the NFL due to his poor work ethic, is one of the most recognisable figures in FCF.

“Feels like I’m super washed up, but still had a blast. That was the most fun I’ve had in a while,” said Manziel after his first FCF game.

An NFL dropout who suffered from injuries and suspensions, Gordon flashed promise in the NFL but ultimately never made the grade. His transition to the FCF fuelled arguments that the FCF league should be considered a little brother to the NFL as he excelled in his first game.

Adding to this narrative is the involvement of prominent NFL figures within the FCF organisation. Though there are just four teams currently, each team has a distinct character thanks to their endorsements. Owners such as Richard Sherman and Marshawn Lynch, both household NFL names, add that bit of pizzazz to their teams, and also provide a connection between FCF and the NFL.

This was a purpose the XFL was supposed to serve, but ultimately failed courtesy of COVID-19. Not only did the FCF stand the test of the pandemic, but it also offers something different that could aid its longevity.

While I would be hesitant to suggest that FCF is an example of the future of sport, it provides a unique blend of the virtual and physical aspects of sport. If it can sustain itself, FCF could be one of the greatest touchdowns in American football history.

FCF’s official website can be found here.