The Federer fanboy moment that sparked a $15 million idea


Having been taken over by a ticketing giant, Fan+ is gearing up to change the hero/fanatic relationship.

Rod Harys was CEO of the Sydney Kings basketball franchise when he experienced his great fanboy moment.

Meeting stars can be mundane for people atop sports organisations. Still, when Harys got a tap on the shoulder back in 2015 and was led into a room by a bloke who looked a lot like Swedish man-mountain Dolph Lundgren, he became more than a little gob-smacked to be in the presence of one of his idols.

 “There’s Roger Federer eating his dinner,” recalls Harys. “He asked me to join him, and somehow, he seemed to know everything about me. He knew what I was doing. He talked about the Sydney Kings … how many games we’d lost.

 “He could’ve just said, ‘Hello Rod,’ shook my hand and taken a photo.”

The joy of the moment was one of the catalysts that led Harys to founding Fan+, a business that sells in-person experiences with sporting stars. Harys was able to attract a star-studded register of investors, culminating in December with the sale of 51% of Fan+ to the owners of Ticketek – TEG – at a valuation of around $15 million.

I couldn’t believe he wanted me to sit down and have dinner.

Rod Harys

 Going back to 2015, Federer’s warmth left an immediate impression on Harys. “I was nervous. I couldn’t believe he wanted me to sit down and have dinner. I was like, ‘All good. You get back to it.’ I got shy and had stage fright, to be honest. I couldn’t believe how genuine and nice he was. You don’t expect that.”

 Harys was already mulling over a problem: how to democratise access to the basketball stars in the Kings’ stable.

 As it stood, sponsors or VIPs might get some meet-and-greet opportunity or maybe access to a dressing room or a seat behind the bench, but how could they open such experiences to the fans? How could they commercialise it so that the Kings, the players and the public all got what they wanted?

 But as his time at the Kings came to an end, the meeting with Federer played into a broadening of the question: How to commercialise such fanboy experiences across all sports in a stand-alone business? And how to make the fans feel as special as Federer had made him feel.

That’s where the idea for Fan+ was born. But he had a family to feed. He’d left the Kings, gone to Volleyball Australia as chief commercial officer through to the Rio Olympics, then Helloworld travel. Fan+ was nothing more than a mocked-up app and a few pitch documents in 2018 when he boarded a Sydney-Melbourne flight and noticed an ad for a Qantas start-up accelerator.

Fan+ Founder Rod Harys, right, with co-founder Aaron Warburton and Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist Kerri Pottharst. | Image: supplied.

 He entered the competition and was selected as one of the three businesses to get the $50,000 start-up capital and a three-month accelerator program.

With the credibility of the accelerator behind him, he was able to attract a stellar register of investors drawing on his list of sporting contacts.

These included: Pacific Equity Partners founder Rickard Gardell, who was a former major shareholder of the Kings and a mentor to Harys; former Merrill Lynch Australia boss Greg Bundy, a former part-owner of the Kings; hotel mogul Jerry Schwartz, a Kings shareholder; former Packer family operative and Scape founder, Craig Carracher, who was also Volleyball Australia president; Seven West Media CEO James Warburton; Hoyts Group CEO Damian Keogh, who had been a Sydney Kings legend as a player; Helloworld CEO Andrew Burnes; Nudie Juice CEO James Ajaka, and; venture capitalists Artesian Capital.

Just as he’d tapped into his sports contacts to find investors, Harys also leveraged volleyball and basketball players to build a base of stars. But in Australia, the football codes rule, so a friendship with GWS, Collingwood and now Bulldogs star Adam Treloar was beneficial.

Two fans enjoying the first-ever Fan+ experience: a changeroom visit and walking out the winner’s trophy at a Wallabies test. | Image: supplied

 “Adam was a great help in delivering on experiences,” says Harys. “He loved doing it, and he loved connecting with his fans. We were doing clinics and personal training sessions. Fans were purchasing personal training ($215) thinking they were going to a gym, but they found themselves at his home.

 “Nick Davis ($335 for a one-on-one kicking session) from the Swans told me how they get hit on all the time to do things. And the athletes want to do them, but they’ve still got to feed their families. They’re out there working. Our platform becomes a way they can deflect that. ‘You can book me on Fan+, and a percentage goes back to my chosen charity.’ It takes away that uncomfortable conversation. ‘I’d love to, but you need to pay for my time.’

 Fan+ offers around 600 experiences across all major sports. You can have a family volleyball game with gold medallist Kerri Pottharst for $3,5770, play a round of golf with rugby league legend Steve Menzies for $750, or maybe a $25 video shout-out from cricketer and Australian rules footballer Emma Kearney. For deals like the “Eric Grothe Experience”, footy legends will turn up at your birthday party and have pictures taken and bring a retro jersey to sign.

The Tim Tszyu Boxing Experience will set you back $485 | Image: supplied

This ramped up in December when TEG bought 51% of the business. TEG had grown out of a series of mergers with companies that date back to Paul Dainty’s promotional business and Ticketek, founded by Kerry Packer to sell tickets to World Series Cricket. Now owned by US private equity giant Silver Lake, TEG operates 30 brands across 40 countries.

 The conversations with TEG continued through much of the Covid-19 pandemic when both businesses were severely curtailed.

 “I was lucky enough to get in front of (TEG) CEO Geoff Jones,” recalls Harys. “They ticket about 90% of sport in Australia. Geoff loved it. He loved the brand, the logo, and the investor group. But they wanted more than a partnership. He wanted equity and asked if I was open to them taking an equity stake.”

 Negotiations progressed as the world started to reopen, and major concert tours were announced.    

 “They wanted majority control because they can unlock almost everything within their business now. They will be the controlling shareholder and can now build our business through their global entity.”

Jones said adding FAN+ was the next evolution of TEG’s live entertainment model. “AT TEG, we believe nothing beats the live experience and to be able to personalise that live experience with a FAN+ moment is the perfect extension of our offering,” Jones said.

It is planned that Fan+ footy experiences should start popping up on Ticketek’s pages in time for the start of the coming AFL and NRL seasons – think coin tosses and signed memorabilia.

After that, Fan+ should start expanding into other sports and entertainment. The plan is that if they can get the deals in place with the relevant promotors, fans can get into sound checks, meet and greets, backstage passes and invitations to opening-night launch parties.

 “We’ll become an experience part of the TEG business which will drive revenue to promoters and give fans some pretty cool money-can-buy experiences.”