Matt Birk has been even busier than your typical dad sheltering in place with eight children between the ages of 3 and 17.
The former Vikings center has been named Commissioner of Sports for React LLC, an advertising technology startup that’s created a mobile game app it believes will keep sports fans engaged throughout televised contests shown either live or on replay during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think it’s a super, super smart idea,” Birk said. “I know as a parent of kids, I’d rather have them watching sports than, say, ‘Ozark’ on Netflix.”
The challenge for sports leagues, TV networks and their advertising partners, as Commissioner Birk describes, is keeping fans focused on the games during hours of action and the many commercial breaks that tempt viewers to turn the channel, check the cellphone or switch to some other screen. And that, of course, doesn’t include all the people who record games and fast-forward through the commercials.
React’s “Super Squares” app, which is free to download, is designed to keep fans engaged by awarding prizes to those who win games based on skill — such as answering questions pertaining to the game or commercial — and chance in the form of a version of the popular boxed numbers game millions of fans play during the Super Bowl.
“What you pay with,” said Birk, “is your attention. And our advertisers only pay when people react to their ad by answering the questions.”
React said it ran successful tests in Tampa in 2018. The app scales to over 5 million simultaneous players and has been cleared to support football and hockey in 2020. It’s also trying to add basketball, baseball, racing and soccer as quickly as possible.
Birk’s role as commissioner includes reaching out as spokesman to leagues and networks in North America and providing expertise from his recent venture into the eSports culture as a co-founder of eSports gaming startup Wombo Sports.
Birk, a former NFL Director of Football Development, said he’s had only preliminary discussions with the NFL and NHL. React doesn’t need to partner with leagues or networks to proceed, but obviously that would enhance the company’s standing greatly.
“We think we have a really smart solution for what ails them,” Birk said. “One, getting people to show up and watch. I think the demise of the NFL was exaggerated, but the numbers are going down, particularly with the younger demographics.
“That’s the more concerning thing. How does that play out long-term? Gen Z and millennials, they just don’t sit down in front of the TV and watch three-hour games like older people do. They consume everything differently. The second-screen distraction or addition is real. So, what’s the best way to engage those folks so they’ll watch, focus and consume your product?”