Standing on the sidelines of a youth football practice he volunteered at back in 2001, Scott Schmidt was issued a challenge of sorts by his friends. Football season was rapidly approaching, but Schmidt's friends had grown tired of trying to organize and manage their fantasy football leagues. The countless transactions and endless stat ticker watching was making Sundays less enjoyable.
They told Schmidt, a salesman with no background in gaming, to create a game that their group of 30 or so friends could participate in.
A graduate of New Berlin Eisenhower High School and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Schmidt set out to create an alternative to the standard fantasy football options, something that was easier to manage and was more "real" in the sense that he and his friends would root for teams, rather than individuals.
"I wanted a game that really put the emphasis back on wins and losses and actual team points," Schmidt said.
The game that would later be dubbed Cover5 was born.
A combination of a standard office pool pick 'em, along with some elements of Vegas-style point spread watching (but not gambling), the concept allowed Schmidt and his friends the ability to pick teams a week to win. It was easy – the teams win, you win. It also allowed others to join in easily.
"It was never intended it to be a business," he said. "The game grew because people enjoyed it. It changed the way they enjoyed sports and watched sports."
At first, it was a game played by just Schmidt, his friends and family. At least until one family member asked him about taking it to another level. The fantasy football business was booming – why not get a piece?
Schmidt beta tested in 2008 and 2009, and expanded it slowly. Since the format is team-based, he then added in the ability to play with college teams. Locally, he brought it to Matty's Bar and Grille in New Berlin and Steve Czaban of Yahoo! Sports Radio and The Hog picked it up to share with his listeners.
Things were moving.
"It's been really cool how it's grown," Schmidt said. "It's totally different than most start-up stories in terms of how they've gotten to it. We're not there – there's still room to grow. We've got some great things going for us. We know people like the game, we do know that it tailors to a wide variety of fans, the die-hard fan and the casual fan. It's a pretty cool journey."
It came to a point in 2011 however, that Schmidt had to make a decision. If he wanted the game to reach its potential, it had to have his full attention. So, he quit his sales job to focus on the game. He partnered with a programmer who had experience at Google and Orbitz to make sure the site could handle all its current, and potential, users.
Word of mouth was spreading, and soon Dan Patrick was hooked.
Patrick, host of his self-titled nationally syndicated sports talk show which is simulcast on DirecTV, found the game to be so interesting he partnered with Schmidt to create what is now called Cover5.
"For the average guy who just wants to play a game and compete with his friends, the fantasy has become a nightmare," Patrick said in a statement. "That's why I helped create Cover5: A game to liberate sports fans from the oppressive demands of fantasy leagues."
The partnership has been a dream come true for Schmidt.
"His reputation is validating the game," he said. "The opportunity to launch a product with in my opinion, the number one sports personality in the world right now – he's currently hosting the Olympics – it's a dream come true - so there's a lot of excitement about launching this product with Dan as a partner and him seeing the value and wanting to put his name to this."
There will be a national push behind the game beginning next week as players around the world begin preparing for the fantasy season, but the company is still fundraising. According to Cover5, the group has secured over $200,000 for "improvements to game architecture" – 40-percent of their fundraising goal.
Schmidt is the company's only full-time employee at this point, but he is excited about the room for growth. The Cover5 format allows for bars and restaurants to host their own professional and college leagues, as well as players who wish to have friends locally, nationally or abroad participate.
With the game about to be launched nationally next week and the college and professional football seasons beginning in a matter of weeks, Schmidt says the game is ready for an influx of users.
"From a founder's perspective, there's a sense of nervousness that everything goes smoothly" Schmidt said. "We feel like we're in a very good place if demand exceeds what we've planned for. We feel quite confident, but it is nerve wracking. There's definitely excitement.
"There's always that in the back of your mind that 'Oh, I hope people are enjoying this as much as our beta group has' and 'I hope our site meets expectations.' I'm very concerned about that. I want to give people the best experience they can have when they come online to play our game. At the end of the day it's extremely exciting and I'm very humbled to be able to do this, I'm humbled that people invested money into me and I'm humbled that people play my game. I'm excited to see what this can do for the sports world."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.