June 18th, 2009

Fantasy Just Might be Recession-Resistant

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Nothing is recession-proof, but sports tend to be recession-resistant. That was the key message from Dr. John-Charles Bradbury, economics professor at Kennesaw State University and author of The Baseball Economist.

People are generally spending less money on everything these days, which clearly isn’t a good thing for anyone who tries to sell stuff. With less disposable income around, consumers will naturally cut back on expenditures. Bradbury says that sports are a bit more insulated than other areas when it comes to cutting.

Sports fans are passionate about their teams and thus less willing to trade them in for more spending freedom elsewhere. Within that group of sports fans, fantasy players tend to be even more passionate. Attendees of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association saw in research collected by Ipsos that fantasy players — whether they’re thinking of quitting or continuing to play — don’t consider cost an overly important factor.

Further, some fantasy game providers could be in pretty good position. Bradbury told us that many consumers will seek out cheaper options for their sports dollar as they tighten budgets, rather than stop spending money in the area altogether. Of course, the tightening of belts will make free and lower-cost options more attractive and could negatively impact the higher-cost pay-to-play and league-manager products.

At the same time, all we can do is speculate about the impact on an industry that’s still too new for us to be able to predict. Carmakers, for instance, have been around long enough to have traveled through many recession periods.

“The interesting thing about the fantasy industry is that it’s so new,” Bradbury told us. “We really have no information on the industry.”

Another part of being relatively new, Bradbury pointed out, is that the industry is malleable. Many companies — particularly the smaller sites that are plentiful on the fantasy landscape — have options when plotting their path through a down economy.

Bradbury recommended that fantasy sports companies who might be going through a period of downturn (or even slowed growth) take the opportunity to regroup and spend some time on research and development. For some, perhaps consolidation with other smaller companies could create a stronger business on the other side of the recession.

Overall, though, sports seem to weather economic storms relatively well, according to Bradbury’s presentation. Game attendance tends to level off in the major professional sports through recession periods but have continued to rise afterward. Sports, he added, are a “normal good,” meaning that demand rises and falls with income levels. Fantasy’s wealthier consumer base helps to keep those lows from going too low.


FootballGuys.com Rolls Out ‘Rate My Team’

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

As part of the Elevator Pitch session during the first day of the FSTA conference, Footballguys.com co-owner Joe Bryant showed off the site’s newest tool: Rate My Team.

Anyone who spends time in fantasy football (or other sports) forums has no doubt come across countless threads with just the same title, posted by fantasy owners looking for tips/critiques from their forum pals. This tool, however, takes a fantasy roster that you enter and rates it based on the projections of some Footballguys experts.

Users enter their rosters, league settings and scoring, and then receive what is actually a pretty impressive report on the team. The sample roster I entered, for instance, got specific about liking my starting running backs and compared its scoring ability with the rest of the field. It pointed out potential weakness at receiver and mentioned methods for addressing that. In addition, the system offers four different experts for users to choose for comparison.

At present, the feature is available only through Footballguys.com, though Bryant spoke of interest in partnering with other sites. The best case would seem be a one-click option on sites where you actually draft your team. That would take out the potentially tedious task of entering all the players, settings and scoring every time.


How and Why Do You Define ‘Fantasy’?

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Thursday’s Fantasy Sports Trade Association conference sessions began with the presentation of the association’s official definition of “fantasy sports.”

Presented by Jeff Thomas — my boss, FSTA board member and former president — the FSTA defines “fantasy sports” as …

1. A skill-based competition involving the selection of a team of real-life performers or athletes that will produce the best future statistics based on a defined scoring system, and

2. The scoring system awards points based on real-life performances and statistical results of the performers or athletes, and

3. The competition encompasses multiple, real-life events or games.

Why is this important? As “fantasy” continues to grow in popularity, more sites, businesses, etc., will seek to leverage the term to draw users to concepts that may reside on fantasy’s fringes or not even in the fantasy realm at all. Particularly in light of the UIGEA, which outlaws sports gambling online but specifically carves out fantasy sports as acceptable, differentiation matters.

Others, of course, might just genuinely not know what “fantasy” technically encompasses. For them, such a definition can be helpful.

The main question in the room at the conference, though, is whether the definition and other practices limit the industry. What about pick ‘em or bracket games, for instance? Well, they’re not fantasy. Whether you want to lump them in so that you can report a larger consumer base kind of depends on what you want.

The larger audience that could be claimed if you count NCAA pool participants could certainly look more attractive to advertisers, but it would also be a bit disingenuous. Rick Wolf, NBC Sports director of business development and Fantasy Sports Association chairman, pointed out that it would also present a less attractive consumer — one without the large average income and consumption stats that have been revealed in fantasy sports consumer research.

Beyond that, what about non-sports fantasy games? It’s a growing market and an issue that will bear further discussion among the board and the association. On one hand, it would be unwise to cut out a group of potential FSTA members (and dues payers). On the other, “sports” is part of the association’s name. How much do they need to stick to that?

Thomas did present a “fantasy model” to accompany the “fantasy sports” definition, but it’s clear that plenty remains to discuss.


NBC/Rotoworld Adds Pro Football Talk Audience

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Earlier this week, news came out that NBC acquired football news site ProFootballTalk.com. The partnership — which is scheduled to officially begin July 1 (although the NBC logo already appears on PFT) — is meant to stabilize the tech side for PFT and add that site’s strong content to the NBC lineup.

As far as fantasy goes, Rotoworld’s Gregg Rosenthal says they welcome the audience that comes with PFT.

“I think the biggest impact it will have is just bringing Mike’s rabid fanbase to NBCSports.com, which will in turn bring more people in the door to our fantasy coverage,” Rosenthal told FSB.com, speaking of PFT’s Mike Florio. “Long term, hopefully we can work on getting tapped into some of Mike’s wide-ranging sources to bring news to our readers even faster.”

Rosenthal will also pitch in from time to time with posts on ProFootballTalk.com.