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The Apple App Store, where mobile device owners can choose from about 1.2 million pieces of downloadable software, is supposed to be practically limitless. But if you search there, or on the Google Play Store for Android devices, for the term, “women’s soccer” or “Women’s World Cup,” the options dwindle to almost nothing.
It was this absence of mobile apps for fans of women’s soccer — many of whom will be watching the Women’s World Cup starting June 6 in Canada — that’s been driving activity at Togga lately. Togga is an Austin startup that just incorporated in April and that came out of the Capital Factory incubator program.
Last week, the company released “Women’s World Cup Challenge,” an app for iOS and Android for fans to pick their team brackets and follow along during the Cup with live scores and enhanced player and match data.
It’s part of a larger effort to popularize fantasy soccer as a viable pastime in the U.S., something that Togga CEO Scott Faust says is about 10 years behind fantasy football, which has become hugely popular online.
“There’s been a void. There’s never been a U.S. base to consume fantasy soccer, but there’s a growing audience for it,” Faust said.
According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, about 41 million people play fantasy sports in the U.S. and Canada. The demographics are largely male (about 80 percent) and white (nearly 90 percent), according to the association.
Faust left a successful shipping startup where he was a partner when he saw there was a tight window before this summer to start an online fantasy league for men’s and women’s soccer and to take advantage of the wave of interest in the sport that comes with each World Cup. “It was a tough decision, but it was too big an opportunity to ignore with the timing,” Faust said.
He and his buddy Will Cline started the company and brought on another four staffers and a crew of five freelance writers to build a fantasy soccer website and app. The company partnered with an information provider to get in-depth stats on players and matches from the English Premier League and released its first app, “Togga Fantasy Soccer.”
The company plans to add other soccer leagues and isn’t charging for any of its apps or services, choosing to try to grow quickly for the time being. Faust said that social media, more televised matches on networks such as NBC — which began broadcasting Premier League matches in 2012 — and the proliferation of mobile phones and tablets has created a perfect storm to build a fantasy network that isn’t antiquated or modeled after NFL leagues. Fantasy drafts, especially, are a feature Togga is focusing on to attract soccer fans.
“The draft is the best part of any fantasy experience, but nobody had done the draft of a fantasy soccer offering right with enhanced stats like ‘shots on target’ and ‘tackles won,’” Faust said.
After Togga decided to work on a Women’s World Cup app to draw attention during the summer matches, they met Monica Gonzalez, a U.S.-born former player from the Mexico national team and broadcast correspondent for ESPN and Longhorn Network.
Gonzalez has been advising Togga, and though she’s not a fantasy player herself, she’s hoping the team will succeed. “They have a good head start, and I think there’s a market for it,” Gonzalez said. “It’s something cool that could help bring soccer fans together globally. It’s very simple and easy to use and will keep users engaged even after their team is out (of the World Cup).”
Faust said that players like Gonzalez have been role models for young women who play soccer in the U.S. and that Togga is targeting not only families and girls who play, but their fathers, uncles and other men who are starting to follow women’s soccer.
“With the World Cup, everybody’s attention shifts to the women’s game. The U.S. team has been a powerhouse and they’re considered to be one of the favorites,” Faust said. “You can go into a soccer shop and buy a men’s Alex Morgan jersey,” he said, speaking of the U.S. Women’s Soccer team member who has a huge online fan base with nearly 1.7 million Twitter followers.
The “Women’s World Cup” app is not as in-depth as Togga’s website; players instead choose three teams from each bracket of four and then follow through the tournament’s knockout stage, not unlike a March Madness basketball bracket. A separate app from Togga allows for another single-player experience called “The Perfect 11,” which has a leaderboard and weekly prizes. After the World Cup, the app and fantasy soccer service will merge.
On the company’s site, Playtogga.com, and its main “Togga” app, fantasy soccer players can set up leagues of four to 12 people, and Faust says they’ll continue to promote women’s soccer with the World Cup as a huge test for the company.
“Nobody’s ever given this level of detail to an event like this,” Faust said. “It’s not that easy. But we believe in it.”