Ex-hedge fund head’s next play: fantasy football

A former Denver hedge fund manager is betting there’s real money to be made in fake sports.

Cherry Creek resident Bo Brownstein will host the first Fantasy Sports Combine this weekend in Las Vegas. It’s a $900, three-day fantasy football prep camp complete with keynote addresses, breakout sessions and the chance to hang with former NFL players and coaches.

“The whole world is moving towards live experiences; there’s a reason music festivals and Comic-Cons are of huge interest to people,” he said. “You create the first live premium education event and meld that with the opportunity to interact in a meaningful way.”

Brownstein, a 39-year-old Kent Denver grad and former two-way tackle on the school’s football team, has been working on the fantasy sports event for about a year now. He said he looked into acquiring a sports-related business throughout 2014, and considered franchises in the NBA’s development league and minor league baseball before honing in on fantasy sports.

Brownstein’s Fantasy Sports Combine business now has eight full-time employees. He said he hopes to turn a profit within the next two years by tapping into what is a popular Sunday hobby for millions and, for some, a 16-week autumn obsession.

He said there are 40 million people playing fantasy sports, and of those, about 27 million are fantasy football players. But for the rabid players who spend hours poring over player data on spreadsheets and computer screens, Brownstein said there isn’t a go-to, in-person event.

A single tickets cost $895. That price includes access to each session, as well as breakfast, lunch and a chance to try your hand at pingpong and air hockey against the conference’s celebrity guests. Hotel rooms are not included.

The event is geared not just to folks willing to burn a vacation day for an edge in their office league, but also to fans looking for a chance to get up close with football bigwigs. Mike Shanahan and ESPN’s Matthew Berry are giving keynote addresses. Former Broncos Terrell Davis, Brandon Stokley and Kyle Orton are also on the guest list.

Brownstein said he has sold about 700 tickets for the event, which has also drawn some big-name advertisers. T-Mobile, vodka brand Ciroc and daily fantasy football website Draft Kings have all bought sponsorships.

“An average fantasy sports player is about 38 years old, has a smartphone, is college-educated, spends more on retail apparel, sporting events and technology,” Brownstein said. “It’s like the dream customer.”

Brownstein himself is no stranger to the football field. His resume includes stints for the Northwestern and UCLA football teams. After college, he worked as an investment banking analyst and later launched a pair of hedge funds between Denver and New York.

In 2012, Brownstein pleaded guilty to an insider trading charge, forfeited more than $2 million and spent four months in prison.

He declined to say what it cost to get the Fantasy Sports Combine off the ground but said he has funded the “multiple seven-figure” business through outside investment. It’s not just fantasy football gurus and football industry players buying in.

“There are a lot of people who are private equity types, well-known executives that, even though they may not be overly involved in sports, they’ve seen how velocity, passion and engagement is in this business, and that’s who’s backing us,” Brownstein said.

Brownstein said he’s looking at several potential paths for growing the event past this week. First, he said, the Fantasy Sports Combine will own all the speeches, advice and draft tips doled out in Vegas and could sell the information to fantasy players who do not attend.

He also mentioned adding a fantasy baseball or basketball event, or perhaps doing multiple fantasy football events and converging on Vegas once a year for a longer trade show and convention – a Comic-Con of sorts with jerseys and ball caps for costumes.

“The Fantasy Combine can be the crown jewel of the weekend with a trade show aspect around it. That in itself is a plenty big opportunity,” he said. “Those are businesses that, when run well, have 60 percent margins and trade at 10 to 15 times cash flow, all day long.”

And Brownstein himself plans to take notes at the event, he said. He has some work to do after a mediocre 2014 on the fantasy gridiron.

“We finished pretty middle of the pack, which was not acceptable,” Brownstein said. “If you play fantasy sports, at first you may just say this is a fun thing to do, but eventually you want to win.”

The former manager of a Denver hedge fund and star football player at Kent is betting big on the growing craze of fantasy sports with a Vegas conference. And he has some big players on his starting lineup.

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