During a break from a tedious deposition a few years ago, Stoell Rives partner Teague Orgeman and his law colleague Thomas Braun started wondering why “there wasn’t a dominant—or even good, really—fantasy soccer platform out there,” Orgeman recalled.
Electronic Arts’ FIFA series and Sports Interactive’ Football Manager are among the most successful sports video and simulation games of all time. In Orgeman and Braun’s minds, however, no one had yet solved fantasy soccer.
Along with three other co-founders, they got to work developing what would become Starting 11, a daily fantasy game that launched last August ahead of the most recent English Premier League season, and which was updated last week to offer World Cup contests.
“While we were building it,” Orgeman said, “we asked what can we do that would be genuinely innovative, that takes advantage of technology that maybe didn’t exist three or four years ago?”
Starting 11—which offers cash and free games in the U.K., Canada, Germany and 33 U.S. states—includes two original features. The first is the ability to make live substitutions, like real soccer. While matches are ongoing, a fantasy manager can swap out up to three players on his or her team for others active at the same time.
The second feature is an ability to compete against other users who are physically located less than pitch-length away in a one-on-one game. Various fantasy and gaming regulatory requirements—Starting 11 has a U.K. Gambling Commission license, for instance—mandate access to a phone’s geolocation to ensure a user is in a jurisdiction that permits cash games. Since that was already built into the app, the development team figured they could find some benefit of the feature for users, resulting in the proximity-based challenges.
Orgeman understood the world of fantasy sports participation as a fan. He had the right experience to craft the user interface, scoring methods, and other fantasy intricacies for real fans. He openly admits, “I’m a fantasy fanatic, like a lunatic about it, and have been for 25 years.”
Orgeman is not exaggerating. He manages at least five fantasy NFL teams every fall and a dozen teams across other season-long fantasy sports, not to mention active participation in daily fantasy. Orgeman has been the commissioner of a local fantasy football league since 1997, writing a newsletter for the league twice a week for that entire span. He recently calculated the word count of his two-decade writing habit and realized the total “wasn’t far off from the entire Harry Potter series.”
His wife of nearly 10 years, Amanda Heyman, is a fellow attorney and co-founder. She supports Starting 11 as general counsel and CMO. Rounding out the founding team are Braun as COO, Mike Arney as chief experience officer, and Alex Ryan as CTO.
Referring to high second-screen usage rates, Orgeman said the team wanted to create a fantasy game that induced sports fans to track live action alongside the app. Adding live substitutions helps that aim, as does a scoring system that rewards not just goals and assists but shots, tackles, clean sheets, and even completed passes, among other metrics. The engagement metric that Orgeman is most proud of thus far is that the average user logs more than 10 minutes in Starting 11.
“Every time that you’re in the app and you’re watching your team, we want there to be a point change for you,” Orgeman said, adding that this system increases the usable player pool to make even defenders relevant. “We want it to be a living experience.”
Starting 11’s business model, for now, relies on the available cash games, though Orgeman said the emphasis is more on social engagement and peer-to-peer contests than any of the massive tournaments run by DraftKings or FanDuel. The Supreme Court’s ruling that states could legalize sports betting may shape future plans for the company, as it will the entire sports industry, but more legal clarity is needed around mobile gambling before Starting 11 thinks about getting involved.
Longer term, Starting 11 could offer B2B services such as white-label games for teams or leagues and find a way to monetize its data set, especially because of the geolocation access.
“We have a lot of really unique information about how and when and where people are watching live soccer matches—when they’re most engaged and who they are,” Orgeman said.