Funded By Tony Hsieh, Ex-Zappos Managers Launch Fandeavor To Turn Everyday Sports Fans Into VIPs

Diehard sports fans will go to great lengths to support their favorite teams. As is evident from the unwavering devotion, the gratuitous loyalty even during “rebuilding years” (sometimes decades), diehard sports fans will do anything to get access to their favorite teams, coaches and players. But, other than tailgating and watching games in the stands, their access tends to end there. Luckily for sports fans, Fandeavor wants to change that.

The Las Vegas-based startup is launching today to give sports fans behind-the-scenes access to the field, court, broadcast booth, locker room, and to athletes and coaches — the types of exclusive experiences typically reserved for corporate sponsors or those with deep pockets. To help change that, the company is also announcing that it has raised $525K in seed funding from Tony Hsieh’s VegasTechFund (a new seed-stage investment fund that focuses on incubating and investing in local tech startups) as well as Erik Moore, an early investor in Zappos.

Fandeavor is partnering with colleges and sports teams to package and sell exclusive experiences, like stadium tours and sideline passes, to rabid sports fans. Users can peruse the site for opportunities, and a la eBay, bid auction-style on particular events or “buy them now” at pre-set prices. For example, one recent package included tickets to a Real Madrid match at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, on-the-field seats, “VIP Field Level Tent access,” a VIP Parking Pass, a free UEFA Euro 2012 soccer ball and free hospitality food and beverages.

The startup currently has partnerships with college football, basketball or baseball teams at TCU, Arizona State, UNLV, USC, Wisconsin and a few more, and will be using its funding to not only go after more college sports teams but branch out into professional sports. Fandeavor co-founder Tom Ellingson tells us that colleges are looking for better ways to both engage fans and give back to the communities of die-hard fans that devote so much time and energy to supporting their teams.

Ellingson thinks the Fandeavor model can bring value to schools and teams by simply allowing them to leverage the company’s platform and technology so that they can stay focused on their on-the-field product. These teams don’t always have the resources or experience selling exclusive experiences to fans and would be glad to have an outside party do that for them.

Secondly, because Ellingson and co-founder Dean Curtis are both former employees at Zappos, he thinks that they’ll be able to take their eCommerce marketing expertise to sports to help colleges and teams reach fans they might not otherwise. Furthermore, being an “experience brand,” Fandeavor is focused on taking care of all the touchpoints, from the online experience to customer service to encouraging fans to share their experience after the event is over.

The co-founder believes that Fandeavor can help teams and college monetize these assets and help create a layer of fan engagement in a way that really any sports fans will find appealing. After all, what diehard fan wouldn’t love to get on-the-field access to their favorite team’s players and coaches? As to monetization, Ellingson says that their typical deal entails a revenue-share with the college or team, with deal structures ranging from a 50/50 split to 70/30 — with 30 going to Fandeavor, depending on the arrangement and what social and traditional marketing support teams are able to provide.

Again, as Ellingson is the former Head of Business Development and Curtis a former Engineering Manager at Zappos, the two spent several years immersed in a company that is well-known for being obsessed with finding ways to optimize the customer experience and provide better customer service. Ellingson said that he wants to bring that psychology to Fandeavor, making gameday immersion and exclusive event experiences accessible to average sports fans. With this Zappos flavor, it’s not really surprising to see Tony Hsieh and Erik Moore signing on.

“There is no stronger loyalty than the rabid sports fan,” said Zach Ware, a partner at VegasTechFund. “Building an experience-based business by turning fans dreams into reality is a win-win — both for franchises and fans.” That kind of loyalty is valuable to colleges especially, which often rely on revenue generated from ticket and merchandise sales to fund other university initiatives.

Fandeavor is initially targeting sports exclusively until it achieves the kind of scale where fans can peruse exclusive events offered by a wide range of collegiate and professional sports teams. If it does, the co-founders see the Fandeavor model having a natural application in other related event-based areas, like concerts and festivals, for one.

Most of the events you’ll find on Fandeavor (as of right now) have prices that start, on average, in the hundreds of dollars. It’s certainly not App Store cheap, but compared to what these types of experiences would usually cost, the price makes them pretty appealing. Ellingson says that the startup is working with its partners to ensure that they’re offering more affordable options to complement the “ultimate” experiences offered on the site. But in the end, the team believes that they are offering unique experiences for diehard fans that can’t be found anywhere else — and that fans will be comfortable paying a premium to have Wayne Gretzky sign their jersey, etc.

Fandeavor will launch a number of NBA and NFL partnerships when the seasons start, and again, the long-term goal is to offer access for all teams. But, short-term, they’re trying to get it right with a few sports before gang tackling the rest.

More on Fandeavor at home here.