Superstar Athlete-Backed WePlay Licenses Fastpoint Technology to Bring Fantasy Games to Youth Sports

By Michael Carney , written on May 21, 2012

From The News Desk

When the CEO of a youth sports social network calls you from his son’s little league game, all questions of authenticity go out the window. Add to that the fact that his company counts as early investors superstar athletes Lebron James, Peyton Manning, and Derek Jeter, as well as super-angel Ron Conway, and WePlay emerges as much more than a “me too” niche social network.

Today, WePlay announced an exclusive licensing deal with the fantasy sports platform Fastpoint Games. Up to this point, Fastpoint powered the fantasy leagues of professional sports leagues and premium media networks, such as the NBA, NASCAR, Major League soccer, FOX Sports TV, and Sony. The sports game developer announced in October that it would wind down its operations and seek an acquirer.

Through the licensing deal, WePlay’s more than 1.5 million users, consisting roughly of 50 percent players and 50 percent parents of 50,000 youth sports teams, will soon be able to create teams and play each other in fantasy leagues.

It should be interesting to see how notoriously hyper-competitive parents of youth athletes handle the additional implications of each at bat, jump shot, and play from scrimmage. (Let's hope they resist rooting against their own children’s teams, if they conflict with their fantasy games.)

WePlay CEO Lane Soelberg seems to have his finger on the pulse of his target market, telling me that he has “weekly focus groups” at the games and practices of his two young kids.

“Fantasy sports has always seemed like a logical extension of the fun,” says Soelberg. “It has been something that’s been on the horizon as far as our product roadmap goes, but not necessarily in our bullseye. When the opportunity presented itself to bring on board such a robust platform, we knew we had to move on it.”

Soelberg is clear that his company is not rushing to bring this to market. “There are plenty of weekend manager games and salary cap games out there being presented by portals,” the CEO says. “We’re definitely going to apply some creative energy to figure out how we can leverage the platform and not just offer the same mousetrap.”

While WePlay has thus far only licensed the IP of the seemingly defunct data-driven game manufacturer, the platform they’ve built is a fairly technical one that will require knowledgeable developers to maintain and improve upon.

With that in mind, the company is exploring opportunities to potentially bring on board some Fastpoint employees. Fortunately, both the gaming platform and WePlay’s existing social network are built with Ruby on Rails, making integration fairly simple.

WePlay’s previous primary monetization strategy has been advertising. However, the site is starting to offer subscription and premium services, with advertisers like Gatorade and Microsoft in some cases sponsoring specific channels (such as one for moms).

Fastpoint’s business model prior to the licensing transaction had been similar, focusing on partnering with premium brands Us Weekly, Sports Illustrated, Los Angeles Times, Go Daddy, and MySpace (wow, they may need to rethink the last one, or remove the legacy brand from their marketing materials).

According to Soelberg, youth sports is an “ideal niche [for advertisers], because it is intensely social (teams), mobile (everywhere there’s grass, gyms, pools, ice), and local (restaurants, sports equipment stores, ice cream/frozen yogurt shops, mom groups).”

Fastpoint had previously raised a total of $10 million from Mission Ventures, DFJ Dragon Fund, Allen & Co., and SCP Worldwide with the most recent round taking place in 2009. Adding a bit more pseudo-celebrity to this already saturated story, Fastpoint was started by Apprentice Season II winner, Kelly Perdew.

WePlay has raised $13 million to date from Firstmark Capital and the aforementioned superstar athletes and super-angel. The company was founded by former GeoCities COO Steve Hansen, who has since left the company to pursue other endeavors.

Soelberg, who took over as CEO in 2010, unsurprisingly wouldn’t rule out raising additional growth capital as the company expands its offerings. However he said they had a long runway based on current operations. Today, he is focused on diversifying his revenue streams and continuing to prove the value of his platform to corporate partners.