It’s been eight years since former Broncos linebacker Al Wilson really started talking football again.
He retired from the game after a less-than-satisfying exit following an All-Pro career with the Broncos from 1998-2006.
But now after eight years in the business world, No. 56 is not shy about saying he has missed football, and he’s happy to be talking about it again.
"They" is Project FANchise, an innovative mobile technology group that just bought the Loveland-based Colorado Crush football team in hopes of adapting its fan-run model to the local IFL team.
That’s right - fans run the team. Think of it like a live Madden™ game.
Fans build up "fan IQ" by getting involved and participating in all kinds of decisions from choosing the team name to hiring the coach and picking the players, even to sending down play calls to the field. Fans who have accumulated a higher IQ will have more weight in their decisions.
Leading into the 2017 regular season, Colorado Crush fans will be able to participate in team-related votes and eventually join the Crush’s virtual front office as Fan Scouts, Fan Coaches, and General Managers, which will provide access to private forums plus weekly calls with the GM, coaches and staff.
"Football fans have evolved and are now more sophisticated in how they engage with the sport," said Sohrob Farudi, Project FANchise CEO, noting his company is aiming to bring the experience and knowledge of pro football fans to the next level and get them involved.
The first completely fan-run team opened in 2015 with the Indoor Football League's Salt Lake Screaming Eagles. Although the Screaming Eagles were created from the ground up by fans, the already-established Crush will be the second team to integrate the fan-run technology.
FANchise developers are still road-mapping with the Crush front office and Wilson exactly how the fan experience will take place with the Loveland-based team, but so far the integration has been popular. Fans can even vote online now through 11:59 p.m. EST Sunday to choose the new head coach.
"It’s really exciting to see fans be part of it," Wilson said, noting that fans have always liked playing Monday morning quarterback. "They say, ‘well if it was me on 4th and 1…’ Well, now it is you and you have the opportunity to make the call. When [FANchise] approached me, I thought it was a genius idea."
Wilson, now a co-owner of FANchise, will bring his near decade of experience as an NFL All-Pro to the Crush organization, serving as a liaison between FANchise and the fans, players and front office of the 14-year-old franchise.
"The first thing that came to mind was the evolution of fantasy sports," Wilson said, noting that everybody he knows plays fantasy sports and this seemed a great way to take it to the next level and let fans be interactive with a real team. "It's just something that has never been done. When you get a chance to do something that absolutely is a game-changer, why not?"
Wilson joked that if Broncos fans were given the controls, "they would go crazy. I don’t what kind of plays they’d call."
But ultimately Wilson and the "tech guys" at FANchise see a lot of interest as well as benefit in giving fans more control and maybe changing the way they look at the game and encouraging even more football knowledge within the fan base.
For now, Wilson and his partners are content on making sure fans have a great experience playing "Coach" and "GM" for the Crush.
"We are excited about it and seems that the fans are excited about it too," Wilson said. "It is something that has never been done, so I think they are going to buy into it too."
And truth be told, Wilson actually believes Colorado fans have superb football IQ, and he wouldn’t be worried about them calling plays for the Broncos either.
"When fans are engaged and understand football, you know they’ll have the team’s best interest at heart. You know those are good fans," Wilson said, adding Denver fans definitely qualify as "good" fans. "Man, they understand good football out here; they appreciate good football."