Tuesday November 3rd, 2015

DALLAS – His biography as assistant general manager never received prominent display during his years with the Stars, buried as it was online or somewhere deep inside the team’s annual media guide, so Frank Provenzano (third from right above, at the 2002 NHL Draft) started making stuff up.

Most of the text was true–college degree, prior experience, family names–but the kicker paragraph became a hotbed for wild and false tales. One year, he had won a bronze medal in indoor water skiing at the Pan American Games in Quito, Ecuador. Another year, he boasted the world’s second-largest collection of petrified wood. He earned grand master status in a rare form of martial arts practiced on the Canary Islands and operated a mushroom farm in Portugal. Once, he watched in horror as the emcee for a USA Hockey girls’ national tournament, introducing Provenzano as the keynote speaker, read this out loud:

“He then obtained his masters degree in business administration from Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. and completed, in November of 1993, a six month unassisted unicycle tour through the Australian outback to raise awareness for early-onset androgenic alopecia,” the man said.

In other words, male-pattern baldness.

So, let’s be obvious about this: Frank Provenzano doesn’t resemble the traditional hockey executive, nor does he exactly ascribe to the usual rhythms of the NHL. He is a dead-panning father of two who, during the 2004-05 lockout season, got through the contentious arbitration process with players while working for the Capitals, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, returned to Washington D.C. to get married, honeymooned in South Africa, came back stateside, repacked and spent another six months in Italy. He is a comedy enthusiast who did a standup set at DC Improv, adopting the character of a Canadian immigrant. He brought an improv group into the Stars development camp and once took several Dallas players to a show at Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York City. (They didn’t really get the humor.) And, as of quite recently, the man who spent his front-office career assessing risk built and released a fan-sourced fantasy sports scouting app called FANSeye.

Life is pretty sweet for rising Capitals star Evgeny Kuznetsov

“He’s just the kind of person who’d do something like that,” says Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski, one of the early investors and now a member of Provenzano's management team that includes Washington Post sports assignment editor Mike Hume, the Miami Heat’s chief sales officer John Vidalin, Idea Harvest CEO Mike Solow, and Meg Considine, who serves as FANSeye’s director of marketing.

“I like risk,” Provenzano shrugs. “I like change. This either works well, or doesn’t work at all.”

He was sitting inside the radio studio at 105.3 The Fan on a recent weeknight, preparing for his usual spot on a show called K&C Masterpiece, hosted by Cory Mageors and Kevin Hageland. They call Provenzano, “The GM of DFW” for his wide-ranging knowledge of Dallas-area sports, to which he jokes that, finally, he has been promoted to the rank of general manager. 

In fact, he had little desire to stick around hockey. Provenzano parted ways with the Stars in 2013, feeling caught in the monotony of front office life. Newly-hired Jim Nill would have been Provenzano’s fifth GM in seven years. Staying and half-assing the gig, he says “wouldn’t have been fair” to an organization that was starting fresh.

So Provenzano left without a plan—“I had the leaving part down,” he says—and floated around instead of looking for another gig. He wrote for ESPN Insider, worked for a hockey analytics firm based in Chicago, and started appearing on the radio. His first startup idea—an agency called inPlay that determined athletes’ digital marketing value and managed their opportunities—had been done before. Then he started considering the concept of an “expert,” particularly as it related to fantasy sports. When he worked in hockey—three years with Vancouver, seven with Washington under GM George McPhee, and then seven with Dallas—he kept metrics on scouts, looking for trends and biases, grading their grades. But what, exactly, made someone an expert?

“Just because ESPN or Yahoo! or someone else says you’re an expert,” Provenzano thought, “how do we know?”

So he tasked fans with judging. On FANSeye—originally called Crowdzi and Fanzi until everyone pronounced it Crowd-zee and Fon-zee—users rate players according to their efforts on the field as well as other users for the analysis they provide in the application. (There are two Twitter-like data feeds: for players you want to monitor and for users’ comments.) Naturally, Provenzano hopes, trusted opinions will be promoted and thoughtful discourse on fantasy teams rewarded. Consider it a mission to aggregate and civilize sports talk.

“It’s a way to game-ify credibility,” he says.

FANSeye's creator with son Liam.
Courtesy of Frank Provenzano

After coming up with his initial idea, Provenzano hired a company to find out if it even made sense, then sourced out the developers. The initial timeline had the NFL version rolling out a year ago, but friends who were testing the prototype didn’t quite understand it. So they scrapped the model, focus-grouped the redesign, tweaked, tested again and outsourced to a bigger developer. An MLB version was also released. It's free to use and Provenzano dropped the initial seed money from his pocket, but the first round of investing is underway. Roughly 1,000 users signed up in the first week and, one day, he hopes to start charging for certain features. He has partnered with the University of Michigan, Ohio University, and SMU, where he found an intern.

For now, FANSeye is simply an idea that was dreamed up and executed by a man who wanted to try something new. A man who, when asked on the radio where the FANSeye founder was going next, replied, “I’m going to try to set the record in a hot air balloon. I’m going to try to reach the upper limit of the atmosphere.”

Don't put it past him.

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