Former Chicago Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer is, like many pro athletes, an avid gamer. His favorite games are Tiger Woods Golf and the original Zelda—and he has taken his love of gaming to the next level by starting a gaming company. OverDog, which launched in early 2013, matches amateur gamers with professional athletes to compete with each other on console games like Call of Duty: Ghosts, Madden NFL, and MLB: The Show—and brings in corporate sponsors who want to reach sport-loving gamers on their smartphones. OverDog currently has agreements with the NFL Players Association; the New York Times reports that they are in talks with the Major League Baseball and National Hockey League players associations. Over 200 players are currently signed up with OverDog, including Ray Rice, Matt Forte, Marshawn Lynch, Rudy Gobert, and Mike Conley.
OverDog centers around a proprietary iPhone app with which athletes go online and issue challenges for different games. Fans create a list of players from whom they wish to accept challenges; if one of those players issues a challenge, the fan receives a push notification. A lucky fan is chosen via lottery to play against that player, and the app (in a process that Hillenmeyer describe's as the company's "secret sauce") then auto-initiates a console game between the athlete and the user.
Hillenmeyer notes that the app is a selling point for gaming companies and other corporate partners. Since the smartphone app is required to play with athletes, it provides a handy place for brands to place ads. In order to square up against players like Ray Rice or Matt Forte, gamers have to offer up their Xbox or Playstation account names. Committed gamers who are willing to spend their free time competing against pro athletes at Madden are a specific demographic that advertisers pay good money to target. When advertisements go out through OverDog's mobile app, it's to a demographic that sponsors spend a fortune to reach via cable television.
The athletes who use OverDog like it, too. "OverDog isn't turning any athletes into gamers. We are giving those who already game a much better way to connect with others—enhancing an existing behavior, which these guys understand," says Hillenmeyer. The company encourages athletes and end users to post video of their games on YouTube—which offers another potential revenue stream. Hillenmeyer also notes that OverDog is a way for athletes to connect with fans outside of Twitter while preserving their privacy—connections between players and users, made within the app, don't feature the players' user names.
OverDog grew out of a Kickstarter campaign (which Fast Company covered a while back) which attempted to raise $100,000 in funding. The campaign only raised $37,472, but the company has recovered, thanks to interest in their app's advertising potential.
Hillenmeyer, a Northwestern Kellogg Business School graduate, adds, "There are countless brands looking to market to sports fans in new and creative ways. OverDog provides a platform, through our athletes, who have a collective social reach of more than 30 million on Twitter alone, to put their brand in front of that demographic. Allowing athletes to convey that message from the comfort of their own homes is a powerful differentiator to your typical commercial shoot or branding opportunity."