February 7th, 2010

Personal Profile: Michael Levine

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

Name: Michael Levine
Nickname: People call me a lot of names. None of which I’ll share in this forum. I used to play in a heavy metal band in high school, though, and had an alter-ego called Ike McKaslin.
Job title(s): Senior Product Manager, Fantasy Sports
Full-time in fantasy? 10 years
Age: 36
Education: Graduated from a small but great school in Pennsylvania — Moravian College — and also attended Syracuse University for my freshman and sophomore years.
Family status: Married (Jillian - Wife), no kids … yet
Favorite fantasy sport to play: Baseball
Favorite sport to watch: Baseball
Favorite team (any sport): Philadelphia Phillies
All-time favorite athlete: Allen Iverson
Years playing fantasy: 16

I got my start in the fantasy industry when: SportsLine.com hired me for technical support of their Commissioner product shortly after they acquired Commissioner.com.

Since then, my fantasy résumé includes: Producer, Production Manager, Product Manager and now Senior Product Manager.

Three questions

1. You’ve been on the CBS fantasy scene since 2000. How has your job changed in that time?

Quite a bit. As you can see from the jobs listed above, I started in technical support. That was mostly just a way to get my foot in the door for what I thought at the time (and turned out to be right) was a great opportunity with CBS SportsLine. But it really helped me to understand this business from the ground up. My background is in both IT and business management, so I think my unique skill set at the time allowed me to advance rapidly through the system.

The combination of my product knowledge and technical ability allowed me to move into a producer role, which is more or less a technical role that involves getting everything in the fantasy realm up on the site. I then moved into a managerial role with respect to site production. From there I think my understanding of our products from a business perspective helped me move into a product manager role. In that role, we set the product goals and objectives and then develop and implement the strategies and tactics for each individual product on the site. My current job is the senior product manager, where I am working closely with our director of fantasy sports, Danielle MacLean, on both long- and short-term strategies for our fantasy business as a whole.

2. Football is the clear king of American fantasy sports. What percentage of your time and effort would you say is devoted to football-specific tasks? Has that changed in recent years with fantasy’s growth and branching out?

Percentage-wise, yes, football has traditionally dominated my time and effort — especially in terms of site production, where we have a much more comprehensive suite of products in football than in any other sport. We also manage NFL.com’s main suite of products, so between our two businesses there is certainly enough football work to keep us busy for a while. But we’re also constantly assessing our place in the market and evaluating opportunities across all sports that would be beneficial for our business as a whole. That is really taking most of my time right now and only a portion of those opportunities revolve around football exclusively.

3. CBSSports.com has seemed to try to involve users more heavily in the past couple of years, most notably with the user-generated player news updates. Why do you think such user outlets (such as blogs and forums, as well) are so important, and how has your audience responded?

Well, you just need to take a look at the Web as a whole to see why user outlets such as blogs and forums are so important. When you see sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter dominating the web traffic, it is clear that users want their voice to be heard. It only makes sense to see that translate to fantasy, where everyone I’ve ever encountered in this business has an opinion about something. We try to make it as easy as possible for our users to have a conversation about fantasy on our site, and our audience response has been tremendously favorable.

Bonus: Listed among your favorite teams are the Sixers, Flyers, Phillies and Penn State, which sure seems to peg you as a Philly boy. How the heck did you escape the grasp of the Eagles?

It’s a long, boring story that basically ties into family allegiances. I’ll spare everyone the long version and just say that I grew up in Allentown, PA, (about an hour north of Philly) which made it easy to follow the Philadelphia teams and adopt them as my own. Pro Football was actually the last sport I picked up, and since I was older, I was able to form my own opinions about which teams I wanted to follow.