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Former NFL safety Chris Crocker might have conceptualized the idea for his new e-commerce startup during his playing days but only now is he finally bringing it to market.
Enter FanFlow, an online memorabilia marketplace where fans can purchase autographs directly from players without having to face a middleman.
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Throughout his career, which stretched over 10 years and with five organizations, Crocker said that he did his fair share of autograph signings and saw how athletes like himself were leaving money on the table because they were only paid a flat fee, surrendering a “huge portion of the marketshare because someone else facilitated a signing.”
“It just didn’t make sense. I thought, ‘Man, if i could just make a platform where you could go direct to the athletes, it would be a much better experience,’” said Crocker to SportTechie, adding that fans are “charged every step of the way at a collectibles show.”
The 37-year-old referred to FanFlow as a technology company designed to disrupt the fan experience, equating it to “Build-A-Bear.” A fan can visit the startup’s website, choose a player and item, customize the inscription and then have FanFlow fulfill the order.
Though Crocker wouldn’t disclose any of the startup’s formal relationships with big box retailers for the actual merchandise component, he did say that FanFlow has “some pretty unique partnerships in the fold.”
Through the on-demand model, a retail partner of FanFlow’s wouldn’t have to pre-purchase the inventory because an autograph wouldn’t be expected to arrive overnight, according to Crocker. Think of FanFlow as the Fanatics for memorabilia signings, although still in Beta form and an early-stage startup that only came public in the past few weeks.
Crocker added that with retail and even future professional sports team partnerships, there wouldn’t be a margin baked into the autographed item, making it less expensive than a traditional piece of memorabilia. FanFlow recently partnered with FC Cincinnati of the United Soccer League, the company’s first foray into a team memorabilia relationship.
If all goes to plan for FanFlow, the autograph experience could include fans having the opportunity to purchase customized video messages from athletes as they sign a jersey or ball. As Crocker said, video will be an integral piece of the FanFlow autograph puzzle as they chip away at the traditional business.
While he doesn’t necessarily believe fans attending memorabilia shows will lose popularity any time soon, he did suggest the possibility of athletes doing those types of signings as more of a goodwill gesture. Now, with the ability for fans to go direct, there arguably might be a larger piece of the pie for athletes to engage with FanFlow.
“This is another form of fan engagement,” said Crocker of FanFlow, which is currently raising a seed round. “It’s not really just about buying a piece of memorabilia or a collectible. It’s about really creating that new experience for the consumer or fan.
“I’ve been able to build this product from the athlete’s point of view. … We really think we’re onto something, and we’re excited about where we are.”