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Play Against Your Favorite Pro Athlete — and Survive

Play Against Your Favorite Pro Athlete — and Survive

OverDog connects athletes with fans through a shared pastime:
video games

When former Chicago Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer ’10 joined Pro Player Connect, video games seemed an unlikely meeting place for professional athletes and sports fans. PPC billed itself as an online “endorsement marketplace” for athletes seeking paid off-the-field engagements like autograph signings. But even with a roster of about 2,800 athletes, individual revenues were slim.

PPC became a “Groupon for jocks,” Hillenmeyer says, a place where athletes could get free or discounted merchandise because of who they were. A vigorous rebranding began, along with a search for a more effective way of capitalizing on athletes’ free time.

Then, at last year’s NFL Rookie Symposium, a survey revealed that 70 percent of rookies considered themselves “avid gamers” or enthusiasts who played more than an hour of video games per day, at least four days a week. Further research suggested that a large segment of athletes who had signed up for PPC also were playing video games nearly every day.

Hillenmeyer and co-founder Steve Berneman rechristened the company OverDog, with a new focus on bringing athletes and their fans together through online gameplay. Quickly, their team developed a smartphone application that linked the two gaming groups. “We were kind of surprised to find out no one had done this before,” Hillenmeyer says.

The OverDog app works on iOS- and Android-enabled devices, allowing athletes to challenge fans to online multiplayer matches on PlayStation and Xbox platforms. Popular choices include the Madden, FIFA, and NBA2K sports franchises, along with first-person shooters like Halo and Call of Duty. Interested fans use the app to enter a brief, automated lottery, and the winner plays head-to-head on a console with the athlete challenger.

“We get unprompted emails all the time from people,” says Hillenmeyer. “‘Oh, my God, I got to play Matt Forté in Madden last night.’ [And for athletes,] there’s just something fun about interacting with your fans, especially when it’s done in this safe, noninvasive, arm’s-length way.”

The NFL Players Association already has licensed OverDog, with more than 250 athletes currently issuing challenges. New features include fan-versus-fan matches and coordinating available athletes with real-life matchups of the week. In the future, streaming video of matches for fans to watch online will be commonplace. Advertising revenue will both support the app and provide income for athletes.

“From a macro level,” Hillenmeyer says, “anything that connects athletes with fans is good for that athlete’s brand, it’s good for that team’s brand and it’s good for that sport as a whole.” It’s fun for the fans, too.