February 1st, 2010

FSWA Nears Hall of Fame Reality

Monday, February 1st, 2010

The idea of a Fantasy Sports Writers Association hall of fame has been tossed around for a while. It predated current FSWA president Mike Beacom’s tenure, but the process had trouble getting ironed out.

Beacom says that the ironing is finally done, however, aided by a board meeting at the recent Fantasy Sports Trade Association conference in Las Vegas.

“We’re finally at a point where we’re there,” Beacom told FSB.com on Monday. “The great thing about it is that everyone is genuinely excited.”

He said there’s never been a lack of support for the idea but that details such as how to select the class, what criteria to judge on and how to make sure the honor is properly recognized drew the process out a bit.

The group is now moving into the final stages of naming a 2010 induction class, however, and part of the discussion and planning to this point has been making sure that there are no interruptions to the process once it gets rolling.

“This is something we’re committed to every year. We want to build a history,” Beacom said. “This is something we’re going to make a big deal out of. We want the individual that gets inducted to feel as special as we consider it.”

So, what will the process look like?

For starters, the hall is being put in place to honor fantasy industry veterans who have made a significant and lasting contribution on the editorial side. The focus will often be on prominent writing accomplishments, but the FSWA will also seek to honor those who helped create opportunity for writers in various ways. The “veteran” portion is important, too, as eligibility can only be triggered once someone has 10 full years of service in the industry.

A volunteer committee of FSWA members is charged with putting together a full list of candidates for the year. Beacom says the current process has already gathered about 50 names and is expected to ultimately generate about 60.

After working with Beacom and its own committee chair (who has yet to be named, though several candidates are being considered), the hall of fame committee will whittle the list down to 15 finalists. From there, each committee member will vote for however many candidates he or she thinks should get enshrined.

Beacom said that the FSWA is still working out just how many votes each member will have to cast in that vote and what percentage of votes will be needed for enshrinement.

Beacom said he anticipates each year’s class containing from four to seven enshrinees, though he concedes that this first class — in particular — could easily boast more. He also said that the FSWA will strive for a fair process.

“Integrity is No. 1,” Beacom said. “We don’t want to have a buddy system.”

The association is continuing to look at a review process to ensure, for example, that deserving names don’t get repeatedly ignored. It will also decide at some point how to incorporate hall members into the selection process.

The most significant detail yet to be determined is just how and where any ceremony might take place.

“We would love to have a venue that would allow us to present to our inductees,” Beacom said. “If that becomes available, we think that would be a fantastic opportunity. If not, we’re still going to find a way to make it special.”

Voting on the inaugural class is expected to finalize by June or early July. Any questions about eligibility or suggestions on nominations can be directed to Beacom.

The hall committee is made up of FSWA members with fewer than 10 years of service in the industry (who, thus, aren’t yet eligible for the hall). The committee chair can have 10 years in but is still ineligible.


Personal Profile: Brandon Funston

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Name: Brandon Funston
Nickname: The Gamer — the moniker used for several years at ESPN (online and magazine)
Job title(s): I manage the editorial group of Yahoo! Sports Fantasy
Full-time in fantasy? Full-time in fantasy for 13 years
Age: 39
Education: Attended Western Washington University
Family status: Married (Diana - wife) with 2 children - girl (Genesi — 6 years old) and boy (Jonas — 3 years old)
Favorite fantasy sport to play: Football
Favorite sport to watch: Football
Favorite sport to play: Basketball
Favorite team (any sport): Seattle Mariners
All-time favorite athlete: Gus Williams, Seattle Supersonics
Years playing fantasy: 26 years

I got my start in the fantasy industry when: I was 13 years old when my friend’s priest hired us to co-manage his fantasy baseball team for the sum of $100 apiece. He would come out on the balcony of his church living quarters and float dollar bills down to us so we could run off and buy research materials.

Since then, my fantasy résumé includes: I started my profession on a more permanent basis in 1996 as one of the first few hired on at ESPN Fantasy Games. I worked for ESPN for 9 years, spending several years managing the fantasy sports content group and the final two years playing a more prominent role as an on-air/online analyst. I also contributed a few years as a regular fantasy columnist for ESPN the Magazine.

I made the move to Yahoo! in 2004, again taking on the role of managing the fantasy content group. This is the (ever-expanding) role in which I reside presently.

Three questions

1. What was the demand for and treatment of fantasy content like back when you first joined ESPN? How quickly did you see things start to grow?

I think insatiable has always been the best way to describe the thirst for fantasy content, then and now. There used to be very few places you could look for an “expert” take online, but the industry has grown, as has the means by which opinion can be flaunted by anyone and everyone.

From a professional presentation point of view, I know that fantasy content, at least at places like ESPN and Yahoo!, has evolved to the point where it’s nearing the same level of internal editorial scrutiny as that of its traditional sports media components. As far as growth, it seemed steady for several years after I began in the industry, but it seems to have skyrocketed, in terms of industry breadth, in the past few years.

2. What brought you over to Yahoo! Sports, and how did your role differ from what you did at ESPN?

Frankly, I had a very good thing going at ESPN, but I spent the final couple years of my tenure there in Bristol, Conn. And the reputation of life in that Northeastern town is deserved. Admittedly, I’m a West Coast kind of guy — born and raised in the moderate, albeit rainy, northwest corner of the country. While in Connecticut, we lived in a classically beautiful New England town of West Hartford, but that didn’t overcome my desire to be back on the West Coast — closer to the family, friends and way of life I was accustomed to. It was tough to leave the ego-boost that comes from getting to rub elbows with sports celebrities on a daily basis in the halls of the Bristol campus, but after two years, my vanity had run its course. And Yahoo!, another monolith in the fantasy industry, offered me a great opportunity to get back to “my” side of the country without having to take a professional step down to get there. I made the move with no regrets, and it’s the same six years later.

3. How do you balance the various sports that you cover, and how does user feedback break down among them?

I have a love for the big three: football, baseball and basketball. But because of just the massive audience that football brings to the table, it garners the majority of my focus. So, while I have a passion for fantasy hoops, I have to slight it in terms of my personal content contributions to the site because its season comes midway through the football season, a time at which I have literally no extra time to give. Baseball gets a little more love from me because it begins as basketball ends and football is still in hibernation. But, with all things — be it managing writers, contributing my own content, or managing the relationship of our content partners — it’s just a matter of prioritizing. That said, I work from home, and the gravitational pull of an office only steps away from my bed can have me at my computer at all hours of the day.

As far as the breakdown of feedback goes, I think it’s proportionate to the audience of that sport. In any fantasy sport, I think there is a somewhat similarly sized (percentage-wise) subset of that participation group that is passionate to the point of actively engaging in message boards and other modes of feedback.