Fans to manage minor league team for second half

Updated: June 15, 2006, 8:15 PM ET
By Darren Rovell | ESPN.com

Now this is really fantasy sports.

The Schaumburg Flyers, an independent baseball team located 30 miles from Chicago, have agreed to turn over to fans the managerial decisions such as the batting lineup, fielding positions and the pitching roster for the second half of the club's season.

"If this is done well, our players are going to be as well known as some Major League players."
Rich Ehrenreich, Schaumburg Flyers owner

The project, called "Fan Club: Reality Baseball" is the result of an alliance between production company LivePlanet, which will be responsible for the behind-the-scenes storytelling, and Microsoft's MSN, the Web site that will display everything from the team's day-to-day statistics to video highlights with the potential to stream games live.

"I almost didn't believe we could do this with a real baseball team," said Joe Michaels, MSN's director of business development.

The idea of having fans actually vote on game decisions isn't a new one. In 1951, promotional wizard Bill Veeck dreamed up Grandstand Managers' Day for a game between the Philadelphia Athletics and his St. Louis Browns.

Keith Quinn, executive producer of the interactive series, said that, as things develop, fans will get to vote on more decisions such as ratifying a trade or filling the roster.

"We're going to let the fans do as much as we can," Quinn said. "But we won't have players playing positions they can't play -- like a catcher playing shortstop or centerfield."

Rich Ehrenreich, a retired attorney who has owned the Flyers since the team started playing in 1999, said he hopes the project makes his team the first national minor league team.

"If this is done well, our players are going to be as well known as some Major League players," Ehrenreich said.

The toughest part of the deal was selling it to his manager Andy McCauley.

"I think he was initially shocked at the idea," Ehrenreich said. "But then I asked him how he felt about being famous."

Ehrenreich also made clear to his players that "they wouldn't get replaced by peanut vendors."

Ehrenreich is hoping fans can help lead his team to the Northern League championship. The team lost in the championship series in 2004, but four out of the last seven years the Flyers have failed to make the playoffs. The team is currently in first place in the South division, with a record of 17-8.

The Flyers history boasts former Chicago White Sox player Ron Kittle as the team's first manager and signed former major league catcher Matt Nokes in 2001.

"Fan Club" will go live next month and fans can make their decisions. While there isn't any money involved, Quinn said he's hoping that the biggest fans who follow the team online will not only be invited to games, but some could actually wind up coaching third base.

MSN hopes to make money on the series by offering advertising opportunities to companies that want to be associated with the content. There's even potential to put advertising on the team bus, dugout or jerseys.

Veeck's St. Louis Browns won the game 5-3, one of only 52 games the team won that year. Fifty-five years ago, the local paper in St. Louis, the Globe-Democrat, printed a ballot in which readers could choose the lineup order and position of the players for the game.

Every fan who submitted a lineup received a ticket and sat in a special area behind the dugout. Each "manager" was given a card with "No" and "Yes" on it. As Browns manager Zack Taylor sat in the stands in a rocking chair, fans votes were quickly tabulated on nearly every major decision ranging from how the infield should play to whether or not a new pitcher should be warmed up.

Wrote Veeck in his autobiography, "Veeck As In Wreck:" "Never has a game been called better."

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn3.com.

Darren Rovell | email

ESPN.com Sports Business reporter