July, 2010

‘Silly Little Game’ Interviewed, Ignored Fantasy Forefathers

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

As August quickly approaches and NFL teams arrive at training camp in rapid succession, the fantasy industry moves closer to its annual fever pitch.

No matter which fantasy sport you might prefer or target with your website, football is the indisputable king. About two-thirds of fantasy players enter the market via football, and about 90 percent of fantasy players surveyed by Dr. Kim Beason last year play football.

As we all get ready for our fantasy drafts, though, it’s worth taking a little time out to look at how we got to this point - where fantasy came from and how it became such a phenomenon.

It’s such a worthwhile sports topic, in fact, that the germination of fantasy sports served as the subject for one of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentaries back in April. Unfortunately, the film’s creators came up well short in telling the real background story on fantasy sports, as we pointed out on this site after viewing the product.

We bring it back up now, though, because the fact is that the creators didn’t simply miss part of the story, they ignored the part that made a lie of the movie broadcast by The Worldwide Leader.

It would be a bit more understandable if Lucas Jensen and Adam Kurland simply failed to realize the history of fantasy before Daniel Okrent and La Rotisserie. After all, the homepage for “Silly Little Game” reads: “For all this success, the story of the game’s inception is little known. The modern fantasy leagues can be traced back to a group of writers and academics who met at La Rotisserie Francaise in New York City to form a baseball league of their own: The Rotisserie League.”

The real story of fantasy’s birth — the one that begins in the early 1960s with a group of sports lovers and professionals from Oakland, Calif. — already lives on the Web. It would have taken nothing more than a little Googling if Kurland and Jensen didn’t know about Bill Winkenbach. The thing is, they did know.

During the months of researching and filming “Silly Little Game,” Jensen actually took a crew out to Oakland and interviewed Andy Mousalimas, a manager of one of the GOPPPL’s original eight teams, as well as some of his fellow players from the Kings X leagues that began in the late ’60s.

“The film crew not only talked to me, but they filmed and interviewed four Kings X Fantasy Football charter members, including me,” Mousalimas told FSB.com recently. “Later the film crew joined us at the Grand Oaks Restaurant where we held the 42nd Kings Draft; 2009 was my 47th year of F.F. draft. The owner of the restaurant — albeit not a sports fan — was kind to spruce up his banquet room for the draft and the filming.”

Of course, for whatever reason, none of that footage made it into the documentary, nor did any mention of the West Coast games that got this whole phenomenon started. We’ll try to find out from the folks involved why they chose to ignore the history they’d learned, but the key point is that they did.

As we’ve said here before, Okrent and his leaguemates deserve credit for helping to publicize fantasy baseball, a big step toward delivering the pastime to the masses that now play it. At the same time, if you want to feel sorry for someone for not cashing in on the fantasy boom, start at the beginning.

We’re not looking to breed sympathy here, though, we’re just looking to tell the real story. That’s what we’ll be doing at FantasySportsBusiness.com over the next few weeks leading up to the NFL season. We’ll look back to the real beginning of fantasy sports and attempt to give credit to the pioneers of the games that launched our industry.

If you have any information, people or anecdotes that you want to make sure we don’t leave out, please feel free to let us know.


FSB Daily 7/26: Twitter, @Jones_Drew32, Fantasy Musical

Monday, July 26th, 2010

A roundup of items recently posted on the FSB News page.

- San Francisco Chronicle blogger (among other things) Tim Goodman says, regarding Twitter, “I can’t imagine sports fans not using it — especially if you’re into fantasy sports.”

- Maurice Jones-Drew seems to be settling into his role as a fantasy analyst. He dished out some fantasy advice via Twitter on Monday, where his open discussion of the team from his recent Sirius XM mock draft got things rolling.

- Sunday brought two readings in Pennsylvania of “Fantasy Football: The Musical,” the fictional story of Bill Simmons and Matthew Berry combining to invent the pastime. (Rumor has it that early editions of “Silly Little Game” followed the same storyline.)

Send all of your news, job postings, stories and profile ideas to [email protected]. Follow us on Twitter (FSBcom).


Tough to Believe in ‘Thriving’ Magazine Market

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

A recent headline from the Washington Post website seems a bit misleading: “Despite magazine industry downturn, NFL, college football and fantasy football previews are thriving.”

The article opens by seeming to offer the proliferation in number of fantasy (and non-fantasy) football preview magazines as evidence of that thriving market. That, though, was followed by the truly good news: that second quarter 2010 presented the first time in nine quarters that the magazine industry saw gains in total pages and advertising revenue.

That, of course, followed big losses the previous two years — including the folding of more than 36 publications.

Specific to the football arena, Fantasy Football Index reportedly saw circulation drop 9 percent from 2008 to 2009 (24 percent from 2007 to 2009).

On the other hand, Lindy’s reportedly has seen gains in sales of its NFL preview magazine, and the article passes along word from Sporting News that its annuals still turn a profit.

So which is it? Are things bleak for magazine producers or is this a solid market segment whose target audience is so devoted to the games — or too lazy to compile its own draft lists — that the support will continue on? At best, the truth sure seems to lie somewhere between “thriving” and dying.

Last summer, Nando Di Fino wrote up this report in The Wall Street Journal in which RotoWire’s Chris Liss concedes that his company’s fantasy football preview magazine probably would not turn a profit and that it wasn’t really expected to. More than a moneymaker, the magazine serves as a big shiny ad — positioning the RotoWire name in front of potential customers and providing a strong business front for potential partners.

That report relayed the anecdote of CBS Sports doing away with its print preview mag in favor of an electronic version — not something you do with a profitable product — and Sporting News reporting a 19 percent dip in fantasy football yearbook sales from 2007 to 2008.

We’re sure there are some print publications that continue to make money, and as Lindy Davis pointed out in the Washington Post story, there are factors that make it easier for sports annuals to survive.

“A lot of magazines have been giving their product away for years to get the ad dollars,” the Lindy’s publisher told the Post. “Twelve issues for 12 bucks, and we’re charging eight bucks for one. So we’re charging top dollar, that’s one thing. And there’s just an incredible passion for sports in America. Good economy, bad economy, it doesn’t affect it. And sports can sometimes be a refuge in bad times.”

The slashes in print ad spending and saturation of the market makes it a tough time to make your money with a magazine, though, even one that caters to the devoted fantasy audience.

FSB.com would love to hear some facts from any of our readers who are still plugging away on the print side, so contact us at [email protected] to share.


FSB Daily 7/23: Yahoo!, NFL.com, MJD Mocks Himself

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

A roundup of items recently posted on the FSB News page.

- Yahoo!’s acquisition of Citizen Sports has led new Facebook-connected social functionality (sponsored by Miller Lite) for its fantasy football teams this year. Anyone with a team on Yahoo! Sports will be able to “like” that team and get player updates and other content delivered straight to his or her Facebook news stream.

- The promotional plan for NFL.com’s new fantasy football league-management product has moved from Phase 1 — targeting existing league managers — to Phase 2, which will focus more on drawing in new players. NFL.com will also reportedly start a fantasy football show on the Web in September. (Why NFL Network doesn’t have a dedicated fantasy show yet for the predominant field of American players is a mystery to us.)

- It can be interesting enough to see where Maurice Jones-Drew will go in Round 1 of the typical 2010 fantasy football draft, but Jones-Drew himself helped add interest to the Sirius XM Times Square draft on Wednesday. The Jaguars running back worked a trade with fellow host Jay Thomas to acquire himself, after Thomas drafted MJD third overall. Here are (most of) the rest of the results.

Send all of your news, job postings, stories and profile ideas to [email protected]. Follow us on Twitter (FSBcom).