The Salt Lake Screaming Eagles take flight on Thursday as the normally low- profile Indoor Football League offers a glimpse into the future of interactive sports.
The expansion team's site, coach, logo, mascot, cheerleaders and players have already been chosen by fans, who will use an app to pick the Screaming Eagles' plays in real time when they meet the visiting Nebraska Danger at 8,000-seat Maverik Center.
"That's the future of sports," club owner and co-founder of Project FANchise Sohrab Farudi told Reuters. "Twenty years from now fans are going to be very hands on and interactive with all of their sports teams."
More than 30,000 fans across the United States and over 20 countries have jumped on the Screaming Eagles' digital bandwagon and some major movers in sports are paying attention.
Sports Illustrated will live stream Thursday's game on its website and Farudi said the entire Screaming Eagles home schedule might be streamed. The rest of the league's games are available on YouTube Live.
The ownership group includes longtime NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball business executive Andy Dolich, who spent four years with the San Francisco 49ers, seven with the Memphis Grizzlies and 15 with the Oakland A's.
"This is the laboratory for fans to actually express themselves and be involved however immersively we can take them as we move forward," Dolich told Reuters in a phone interview.
"We can go to the white board and really give the fans, who are giving of their time, their money, their enthusiasm, their heart and soul and their knowledge, an opportunity to get involved."
Any fan that downloads the app can engage in voting, though fans that hunger for advanced participation can ante up for special tutorials that allow them to contribute in the team's virtual front office.
"That's the future of sports, the interactive model," said Farudi, whose group has also bought the IFL's Colorado Crush for a second team in the 10-club league that will be run by fans.
"With e-sports and gaming taking such a large role now .. traditional sports have to catch up. The younger generation is looking for this type of interactive experience."
Fans are paying from $10 to $40 a month for tutorials from Screaming Eagles staff on scouting, breaking down game tape, designing plays and game-planning among other skills and are allowed to watch meetings and clubhouse speeches.
"A couple of players on our team were found by some of our fan scouts in our virtual front office," said Farudi. "They sent in tape to our coaching staff, who were impressed and invited them to try out."
Team president Thom Carter said there are 15 to 20 assistant general managers and 75 scouts in the virtual front office.
"We're all working together," Carter said. "Every other week we do a Google hangout. These folks that are all over the world sign in and we have an open conversation about the business side of the team as well as the football side of the team."
Farudi envisions the entire IFL becoming fan-driven and renamed the Interactive Football League.
"My plan is to build this platform in a way that we can go out and take it the NFL or Major League Baseball and provide them services and opportunity," he said. "That's the future of sports, the interactive model."