Some would call it luck--being in the right place at the right time. But if you ask Patrick Hughes, he's likely to call it destiny. The 42-year-old Reston, Virginia, publisher of fantasy sports league administration software and his wife, Cheryl, 35, expect to see their company's sales top $3 million this year--a far cry from the spring of 1994, when Fantasy Sports Properties Inc. found itself staring failure squarely in the eye.
Years earlier, the business had made a promising start. Hughes had been playing fantasy football (a fantasy draft of actual pro players where, if "your" players do well in games, you score) with his buddies for years when, in 1988, he read about the inventors of Pictionary and their multimillion-dollar sale of the game to a Fortune 500 company. Hughes, who owned an equipment leasing company, imagined himself reaping the benefits of fantasy sports' allure--and set to work turning his dream into a reality.
Hughes invested $150,000 in his new venture and found partners in his brother, Michael, who designed the software's original mathematical flow, and product designer Chris Yager, who tailored the software to fantasy sports administration. The program downloads actual sports statistics from the Internet and assigns points based on the fantasy league's guidelines.
The company sold only 200 copies of the software that first season, but Hughes was undaunted. He patented his product and secured a licensing agreement with the NFL Players Association and NFL Properties, which was followed by the company's first big break: After Hughes submitted a proposal to Miller Brewing Co., the beer giant signed on as a corporate sponsor in a lucrative one-year contract with a two-year renewal option.
With Miller's backing, Hughes soon boasted product placement in 6,300 sports bars across the country as the 1989 Miller Franchise Football season (fantasy leagues played in local taverns) got underway.
The company got another boost, says Hughes, when he and Cheryl, an architectural engineer, married in 1990. Together they formed Fantasy Sports Properties Inc. (FSPI), and while continuing to run her own commercial construction project management consulting business, Cheryl began handling FSPI's books and personnel matters. Meanwhile, Yager was made head of product design and development, while Michael Hughes left to pursue other interests.