Power Players

NFL star Russell Wilson's Bezos-backed app is like HQ Trivia for live events—and it had a $250,000 pot for Super Bowl

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson with the Vince Lombardi championship trophy at MetLife Stadium
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NFL star quarterback Russell Wilson has reportedly agreed to a new contract that makes him the NFL's highest-paid player, with an annual salary of $35 million. But, Wilson's latest off-the-field venture is about giving away money, and it offered fans the chance to win $250,000 during February's Super Bowl LIII.

Wilson is the founder of recently launched mobile gaming app Tally, which gives users the opportunity to win cash prizes for making predictions around major live events — like the Oscars or even President Trump's State of the Union address and of course, the Super Bowl.

"People from all over the world watch the Super Bowl live, and people play their own games at their house," Wilson tells CNBC Make It. "They start guessing what the score's going to be in each quarter and they play fun prop bets, and everything else, and they predict what's going to happen."

Wilson says that engagement inspired Tally: "What if there was a location that everybody could do that? What if … every live moment from games, to concerts, to shows — what if everything could be as exciting and as fun as the Super Bowl live? And that's what we really wanted to build out," Wilson says.

Anyone who downloaded the Tally app on iOS or Android devices before February's Super Bowl was able to make 16 multiple-choice predictions about the game. Some of the predictions included picking whether the Los Angeles Rams or New England Patriots would score the game's first points and guessing the final score. No one got all 16 picks correct (only five players ended up getting as many as 14 out of 16 correct, the company said), but if they had, they would have won the jackpot prize of $250,000 (or, multiple winners would have split the grand prize), Tally CEO Jason LeeKeenan tells CNBC Make It.

Tally has not said how many people have downloaded the app so far, but LeeKeenan todl CNBC Make It he expected "multiple thousands" of people to be competing for the jackpot around the Super Bowl. Over 100 million people were expected to watch the game.

The app, which is free to download and does not require users to put up any money of their own, also awards points to users for every prediction they get correct. Tally then hands out cash prizes to the users who get the most overall points. The person with the best results gets a $500 prize, with $200 going to the second-place finisher, $50 to third place and $10 prizes going to anyone else who finishes in the top 10 overall. Winners can collect their money through PayPal, LeeKeenan says. There's also a chat feature.

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Tally, which launched a beta version in November before expanding in January, has raised $9 million in funding from investors who include Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, Alibaba co-founder Joe Tsai, YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley and Kenny Dichter, the CEO of private aviation startup WheelsUp.

Even though Wilson is an NFL quarterback with a Super Bowl championship of his own, Tally isn't limited to just Sunday's big game — or to sports in general. The pair looked at the most-watched television broadcasts of 2018 and found that nearly all of them were live events, from sporting events to the president's 2018 State of the Union address to the Royal Wedding.

Tally will be available for the NBA Finals and March Madness, the Grammys and the Oscars and even the live finale of ABC's "The Bachelor."

"Our approach is to make it really fun and casual," LeeKeenan tells CNBC Make It. "We sort of joked internally, when we built this, that this is fantasy [sports] as if your mom could play it. We want to really make it accessible to everyone. People make the predictions in advance and it's really fun."

Tally is part of a trend of live mobile gaming that's been popularized in the past year by apps like HQ Trivia, which started regularly attracting millions of people to compete in daily live trivia matches, where prizes can reach into six figures.

"We truly believe that this is the evolution of where live events go," LeeKeenan says. He adds: "When we think about where the future's headed, there's no question, in the next several years we think every live event is going to have some sort of fun, free-to-play live predictions game."

UPDATE: This article has been updated with reported details of Wilson's contract extension.

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