July, 2008

CBS’ Move to Name Collegians Could Draw NCAA Ire

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

News spread quickly this week that CBS Sports would begin including the names of college football players in its online fantasy game that has been running since 2005. The change will no doubt be welcomed by fantasy players, who can only get so attached to “New Mexico QB” and “Central Michigan WR.” According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, however, using names might be in violation of NCAA spirit, as well as rules.

The Chronicle’s Thursday-morning article includes this quote from Amy P. Perko, executive director of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics: “Based on what I’ve read about the league itself and what I’ve seen on the [CBS Sports] Web site, I think it’s clear that the CBS program is in violation of [the NCAA's] amateurism rules.”

The controversy harkens back to an issue from last fall, when a proposal sought to broaden the manner in which institutions could present athletes in promotional and advertising campaigns. That proposed amendment to NCAA rules spurred creation of a committee to study the issue. That group will meet in August, and the amendment has been tabled until such review can be completed.

In this case, however, CBS points out that the fantasy game is free and that no prize money is awarded. The company also points to the conclusion reached in a court case we’re all quite familiar with, MLBAM v. CDM, as proof that it can draw from stats and names that exist in the public realm. The difference, of course, is that the athletes represented in the CDM case are professionals. Perko says the NCAA needs to take care of its players.

“The NCAA exists to protect the integrity of its rules and to protect student-athletes from being exploited,” she told The Chronicle. “It has a responsibility to make sure that its rules are followed for the benefit of the individual athletes.”

The NCAA, however, recently offered an interpretation of its amateurism rules that would make players ineligible if their names come up in fantasy games. To retain their eligibility, players would have to contact the fantasy provider(s) to get their names removed, according to the NCAA. The governing body has notified CBS that it’s move could jeopardize the eligibility of athletes.

The NCAA’s stipulation strikes me as absurd. Sites such as U-Sports.com and PreProSports.com have long been providing fantasy college games that use player names. The issue is only now coming to the forefront because one of the big boys has jumped in.

Further complicating the matter is that this particular big boy also happens to be a primary NCAA business partner, one that pays the NCAA $500 million a year for broadcast rights to the men’s basketball tournament.

There are any number of points by which a person can challenge the true “amateurism” of college sports these days. In the end, the use of player names in CBS’ college fantasy games — as well as those likely to follow from other major fantasy-game providers — seems likely to stand as legal, even if it makes some people uncomfortable. The NCAA, though, will address the issue at its meeting on Wednesday.

Although fantasy college football is still relatively new to the marketplace, the research presented by Ipsos at the FSTA’s summer business conference in early July found that it carries about the same share of the market as golf and hockey. Among the 594 fantasy participants surveyed (in the second phase of the study), 12 percent play college football — ranking just behind hockey’s 14 percent and golf’s 13 percent. Factor in the roughly 4 percentage-point margin of error, and the results could be even closer.


Sports Websites Head Toward $3 Billion in Revenue

Monday, July 28th, 2008

A new report by eMarketer finds that sports websites will pull in just more than $1.7 billion in revenue this year and approach $3 billion by 2012.

The study projects that total revenue will more than double over the six-year period beginning with 2007. Sports websites collected $1.489 billion in total revenue last year, according to the report, Sports Site Marketing: Ad Revenue Models Pull Ahead. The number is expected to become $2.955 billion by 2012.

Although sports sites currently depend on pay content for a large portion of their revenue streams, advertising is expected to be the big growth area over the next few years. Whereas the eMarketer numbers call for just a 43 percent increase in revenue from pay content from 2007 to 2012, the projections have advertising revenues climbing by about 138 percent, from $812,000 last year to $1.95 million in 2012.

We can only assume that fantasy sports sites will make up a significant portion of this group, as recent FSTA and Ipsos research has shown the fantasy market growing at a rate of about 23 percent a year over the past five years. As the studies have also shown, online fantasy users are a rapt audience, and one that tends to be on the young side and earn a decent amount of money on average. That’s just the kind of group advertisers like to reach.

Those ad dollars are just waiting for fantasy providers to go out and grab them.




NFL, NBC to Webcast Sunday Night Games

Monday, July 28th, 2008

NBC and the NFL will make the network’s 2008 slate of games available online, beginning with the Sept. 4 season opener.

No mention is made about the cost of accessing these webcasts, which are only planned for the coming season right now.

“We are taking a big leap here,” NFL Network chief executive Steve Bornstein told the Los Angeles Times. “We are looking at this as a learning opportunity to see what applications work online. We are trying to be innovative and creative to make the viewing experience better for our fans.”

The fact that no mention is made of the cost to viewers - in addition to the extra features that will be included - makes it appear as though the webcasts will not be free. In addition to the game itself, the online broadcasts will reportedly include alternate camera angles, the ability to view multiple video streams simultaneously, on-demand highlights and a blog that allows fans to interact with the cast of Football Night in America as well as personalities from NFL Network.

After the Thursday night opener, the schedule will be made up of NBC’s weekly Sunday night broadcasts. Although the large majority of American football fans will likely keep watching the game on their TV sets, this move could be of particular interest to two specific audiences: international viewers and fantasy players.

I honestly have no idea what the availability is for the Sunday night games overseas or how reliable the carriage might be. As the league continues to try to push global expansion, though, this could be a clear way to cater to any interested viewer anywhere with a high-speed internet connection. Fantasy players, on the other hand, can take advantage of live stat feeds to keep abreast of player scores in what will almost always be the second-to-last game of the week.

NBC will reportedly sell advertising for the webcasts and share the revenue with the league. Both sides refused to share the financial terms of the deal, though, according to the Los Angeles Times.

It was really only a matter of time before something like this came about. DirecTV already made game broadcasts available via the Internet to some Sunday Ticket subscribers last season, and networks regularly post whole episodes online now for free. What will determine the future of this pursuit, however, will be its ability to generate revenue. That has been the concern among network executives and basically entertainment-industry executives as global culture constantly migrates toward the Web.

We’ll see how the experiment goes.


Dudes Gather Across the Pond as Well

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

Here in the United States, getting together with our buddies to toss back a few beers, eat some unhealthy food and make fun of the first guy to draft a kicker is an annual event. Such live drafts have been taking place for as long as we’ve been playing fantasy sports.

For folks in Great Britain, though, is the same true? This article from The Times of London makes it sound as if our typical draft isn’t so ingrained into their fantasy “football.”

Of course, mainstream media can often lag well behind what the public is actually doing. In addition, considering the rabid nature of fan following for soccer as well as the seemingly richer pub culture than we have here with our beers, I’d be surprised if a lot of blokes haven’t been gathering for at least a few years to select their squads.

In any event, the article is at least an interestingly different view of the live draft setup. I started to glaze over a bit when names of actual soccer players began to fly and money was discussed in pounds, but I was on board with the talk about pizza.