Co-founded by Mike Schroder and Michael Gold in 2022, Columbus, Ohio-based Future Fans is certainly a fancentric endeavor.
All about making sports more accessible and understandable to kids, Schroder and Gold quickly raised $875,000 in a pre-seed round helping them assemble a team to bring the idea to reality. By the beginning of September, Future Fans launched their first product, the Future Fans Football kit, priced at $59.99.
Aimed at kids ages 4 to 10, the football kit includes five games, two books, an activity book and eight different, carefully constructed interactive sessions around the campers at Camp Rallyhoo Football Week. Through the games and activities, both kids and their parents get fun learning experiences that remove the mystery of football and it’s unique rules for children.
The product is off to a strong start, already garnering four toy industry awards, and gaining traction with several professional teams and leagues in partnership talks.
Neither founder brings a sports background, though both do have significant retail insights. Schroder’s experience includes five years at McKinsey and another four at Target’s headquarters, while Gold previously ran a consumer analytics firm that he had sold off.
We spoke with them to better understand how these two Cincinnati Bengals fans brought Future Fans into existence and where they look to go from here.
Team Marketing Report: The game industry is a complicated one. How did you bring the concept together?
Michael Gold: Our initial idea for Future Fans was to create a book that helped kids understand sports, but we quickly evolved to be a family experience in a box around learning a sport together.
We wanted to start with football given our own affinity for the game and it being the largest market.
Next, we defined the overall brand experience: the storybook-led approach, the concepts we wanted to teach, and the parallel, kid-friendly ways to teach them and then translated that into a product experience of unboxing of toys and games along the way. We brought in great people to help bring our vision to life–a writer, an illustrator, a book and packaging designer, a sourcing expert and even an elementary school music teacher.
TMR: The Cincinnati Bengals are part of the story – and the first team on board – how did that unfold? How valuable is that relationship?
Mike Schroder: During the Bengals’ magical run to the Super Bowl [in 2022], Michael and I both found ourselves wanting to share that experience with our young kids – Michael and his wife have two daughters, while my wife and I have a daughter and two sons – but because they didn’t understand the game of football, they weren’t interested.
Looking around, there was no easy way to teach them. Books and explainers out there all just described things in direct ways, which were not resonating.
The Bengals were the first team we reached out to given we’re Bengals fans and the team’s role in inspiring the brand. They’re focused on engaging youth in their market so we shared with them our capabilities around how we can introduce football in fun and inclusive ways.
We discussed a number of potential paths and decided to start on the community side. We created a “community version” of our consumer product, which became a 30 to 40 minute (1st to 3rd grade) classroom visit by a Bengals player where they read, dance and play a fun bean bag toss game.
The result is these young kids now understand football elements, like how downs work and that touchdowns are worth six points.
TMR: What is your pitch on why NFL teams should come on board?
Gold: Teams and leagues care about creating the next generation of fans and participants, right?
Future Fans is creating lifelong fans – both boys and girls – from a young age and in a completely different way than what has been done to date.
Future Fans helps kids and families understand the game itself, rather than trying to keep them interested through pageantry and novel presentation.
Said differently, we’re focused on growing the very top of the funnel and most of the innovation we see in the market today seems focused on existing fan engagement.
TMR: How will brands integrate…sales, production, promotion?
Schroder: Our capabilities around teaching the rules of football in kid-friendly ways can be leveraged in any number of ways, either incorporating into existing efforts or exploring new ones altogether.
Gold: Potential points of integration could include media, such as teaching via the “Slimetime” broadcast; tentpole or community events, such as school visits or Father’s Day events at the stadium; and international / new market education. We also envision increased product integration with teams through team-specific branding over time.
TMR: There is obviously a window for other sports, what is the natural next step?
Schroder: Our goal is to have products for all major U.S. sports in the marketplace within the next two years, starting with our Soccer product by this coming spring. Other sports in development are Baseball, Basketball, Hockey and Tennis.
Why start with Soccer? Our data indicates other sports are larger in terms of adult fans today, but high youth participation, professional soccer’s family-friendly fan experience and the 2026 World Cup coming to North American soil are all factors that led us to prioritize soccer as our next product.
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