A brand new softball league is modernizing the sports industry, and former LMU superstar Sam Fischer is right at the center of it.
Athletes Unlimited, which kicked off its inaugural softball season last weekend, aims to bring underrepresented sports to a national spotlight. The league is the first of its kind in a number of ways: there are no owners or coaches, which allows the athletes to make all the decisions, and the players have equity in the league for years to come.
The league’s player-centric structure already distinguishes itself from the rest of the sports world, but its most unique feature is the gameplay itself. Athletes Unlimited is bringing fantasy sports to life with an innovative scoring and drafting system that showcases individual players’ performances. Each of the 56 athletes can earn points to help their team by getting hits, stealing bases and recording outs in the field, and team points are awarded every inning. There is constant redrafting as well, with the top point-earners becoming team captains and getting to draft a new team for the following week.
Fischer, who signed with Athletes Unlimited in April, believes this model is great for increasing fan involvement and will likely become the future of professional sports.
“I think it’s mixing things up in a good way to where fans are really engaged,” said Fischer. “I can see it catching on and maybe bleeding into other things … Athletes Unlimited is not just softball — they’ve got women’s volleyball coming up in February, and they’re hoping to get into other sports, so I think it’s going to be something that could really take off.”
The six-week softball season began on Saturday at the Parkway Bank Sports Complex in Chicago, Illinois. This is a historic location; the first ever softball game was played in the Windy City in the nineteenth century, and it continues to be a hub for the sport today. Like some of the other sports leagues during the pandemic, Athletes Unlimited is operating in a bubble to ensure the safety of the players and staff. Housing and frequent COVID-19 testing are provided for the athletes, and all four teams play on the same field.
“[Athletes Unlimited] has been unbelievable with what they’ve been providing us with,” Fischer praised. “Their first goal is to make sure that we’re all safe, and that part’s really nice because we’re all treated very, very well. Today was, I think, my fifth or sixth time being tested for COVID-19 since being here, so they’re doing everything that they can to make sure that we’re all taken care of.”
One major upside to Athletes Unlimited is that every game will be broadcasted nationally on ESPN or CBS, as well as YouTube and the Olympic Channel for international fans. Fischer thinks that this national coverage will significantly increase interest in professional softball.
“We’re getting into people’s living rooms, we’re getting in front of people who were already watching TV,” said Fischer. “Especially in a time like now, an interesting time for sports with COVID-19, it’s giving people that sport fix, and I think that’s the biggest piece of how we’re going to be successful. We all know here that we have a good product, we put a good product on the field for people, it’s just a matter of getting it in front of them.”
To Fischer, playing for Athletes Unlimited is a chance to not only grow interest in softball, but specifically the LMU program. As a two-time Pacific Coast Softball Conference Player of the Year and a National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-American during her four years as an infielder for the Lions, Fischer has nothing but appreciation for LMU and hopes that she can use her platform to expand interest in their program.
“LMU was such an amazing place to go to school and such a great place to play softball. I would hate for schools like that to be discounted just because they haven’t won a World Series,” said Fischer. “Representing LMU in a good way for me is huge, it’s everything, and it’s something that I’ve really tried to do in the last eight years since I graduated.”
Fischer is already making a name for herself in Athletes Unlimited after just one week, and not just because of her iconic memes. She is ranked No. 18 overall and batting .556 with two home runs (including the first home run in Athletes Unlimited history).
“That felt pretty cool. I got a good pitch that I could handle, and it happened to go over [the fence], so it was fun running the bases and feeling like I was a part of something bigger than myself,” said Fischer.
Fischer was drafted by Team Hayward last night for Week 2; her first game this weekend will be at 12:30pm PT on Saturday and will air on ESPN3.