January, 2011

FSB Daily 1/31: Neyer, ESPN, Meat Loaf, WCOFF, Fantasy Fishing

Monday, January 31st, 2011

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

- As he points out, Rob Neyer was hired 15 years ago by Starwave to edit fantasy content for the initial iteration of ESPN.com. On Monday, he produced his final piece for ESPN.

- Sprint ID devices earlier this month launched the ESPN Pack, which enables fantasy-team management on the go, among other things.

- To anyone familiar with his fantasy prowess, it should come as no surprise that Meat Loaf knocked off Jerry Cantrell to win the ESPN-publicized Alice In Chains & Friends Fantasy Football Charity League.

- Tony Windis and his girlfriend will be finishing their 2010 football season in Dallas this weekend at the Super Bowl, thanks to Windis’ victory in the World Championship of Fantasy Football. Oh yeah, he’ll have $300,000 to kick around as well.

- The Fantasy Fishing game from FLW Outdoors gained immediate attention by handing out $1 million grand prizes in each of its first two seasons before dipping to a $50,000 top amount last year. The 2011 season opened recently and will close with a $100,000 lead prize.

- Even if ice fishing ain’t necessarily your bag (baby), this guy has the right idea with creating a fantasy-type scoring system for other activities in your life. After all, that’s how all these fantasy sports got their start anyway.

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


FSB Daily 1/30: FSWA Seeks Secretary, Digital Basketball, Fantasy Library, Horsing Around

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

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

- The FSWA is looking for a new secretary, a job whose title might belie its impact. Bob Harris of FootballDiehards.com stepped down from his job as treasurer, which led Perry Missner to slide over from secretary and open up a slot that president Mike Beacom expects to play an integral role to the FSWA’s future. The volunteer should expect as much as 10 hours of work a week, though a range of 3-5 should be more typical. “Yes, it’s a tall order,” Beacom said, “but we feel like we’re looking for a special individual: someone determined to become a leader in our industry. And it’s important that we find someone with the same passion we have for advancing the careers of young fantasy writers.” Details can be found in the posting on our Jobs page.

- Hoops outlet Dime magazine explores the world of “digital basketball,” including Big Lead Sports’ investment in a couple of content sites two years ago. A couple of key questions, though, are what kind of room there is for growth in the fantasy basketball space and at what rate we should expect it.

- Check this out: Apparently the Martin Library in York, Pa., has been hosting season-preview fantasy baseball sessions for the past 20 years. This year’s edition will feature USA Today Sports Weekly editor Paul White and Baseball HQ founder Ron Shandler.

- Canadian Joe LaCova is hoping the horse that he once bought with fantasy football winnings can take home a prestigious harness-racing prize.

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


Bruno Boys, Draft Sharks Lead 2010 Fantasy Football Accuracy

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

Bruno Boys and Draft Sharks led the way in year four of the Accuracy Challenge created by the Fantasy Football Librarian.

Announced by co-manager Donnie Campbell of TheMostCredible.com at the Fantasy Sports Trade Association awards dinner Tuesday night in Las Vegas — and via The New York TimesFifth Down blog Wednesdsay — the Accuracy Challenge recognized Bruno Boys for delivering the most accurate set of preseason fantasy football rankings in 2010.

Draft Sharks, meanwhile, stood alone atop the ranks in football stat projections, edging 2009 winner RotoHog.

Not to be pushed aside, RotoHog managed to come out on top for the second straight year in baseball projections.


NFL Labor and Fantasy: What to Expect; How to Plan

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Arguably the biggest potential issue facing the fantasy industry right now is something that we all hope will never actually become a real issue.

It’s the NFL labor situation, a subject about which we’ve all been pretty tired of hearing for two years or so now. The past NFL season was played with no salary cap, and when the current league year ends on March 3, there will be no operating agreement between the league and the players union.

In real terms, that means free agency can’t open. It means that teams won’t be able to sign their draft picks. It means no practices (or games) until the two sides quit publicly bitching and work things out. And although the gripes might seem trivial to many outsiders who just see a bunch of millionaires quibbling over how to split a dollar, the unrest is very real to any company that puts the wraps on one fantasy football season only to prepare for the next.

To that end, two sessions at this week’s Fantasy Sports Trade Association winter conference in Las Vegas dealt with the key questions.

First up was Blake Baratz and Andrew Brandt to help break down the key gaps that must be bridged. Baratz, the founder and president of the Institute for Athletes, is tied to the issue even more than we fantasy folks because he’s an agent for NFL players such as Green Bay TE Jermichael Finley. Brandt is a former vice president for the Packers, among other pro football jobs, and now runs the National Football Post — where he has been steadily tracking and covering the situation.

Two key points came from the Baratz-Brandt panel: Five weeks is a long time to iron out bargaining issues, and none of us ultimately knows how things will go.

The five-week timeframe refers roughly to the stretch remaining between now and the March 3 end of the league year. Brandt and Baratz agreed that, although the sides don’t appear close right now, there is a lot of time left for them to meet at the table and hammer out a new deal before the current collective bargaining agreement expires. Both said they’re optimistic that a new deal will arrive without any interruption to the 2011 season, to the point even that they agreed on a rough guess of about a 65 percent chance that a new CBA will be in place by the NFL draft at the end of April.

Of course, Baratz and Brandt also agreed on the completely arbitrary nature of attaching such a percentage. There might be plenty of time left, but the deal will only get done if the league and the players sit together at the table and get it done. The rest of us can only watch/ignore and pray for no more ridiculous initiatives such as “Let Us Play Day.”

Baratz and Brandt also ran through some of the key sticking points in negotiations, but those details are more than we need to get into here. Fantasy companies have a different set of questions, and Fantasy Sports Writers Association president Mike Beacom led a panel later on Tuesday to address them.

As I said at the top, anyone whose business relies heavily on fantasy football — and pretty much anyone who likes the NFL — hopes that this whole issue disappears before it impacts us at all. Unfortunately, we have to at least think about the possibility of the 2011 league calendar getting disrupted and what that might mean for us.

The Magazine

First up are the fantasy football magazines. Putting a publication on newsstands in June or July means generating most the content through April and May and planning everything out before then.

Digger Turnbull of XML Team related the story of how his Canada-based Fantasy Sports Services — acquired by XML Team early last year — decided that it couldn’t afford to publish its annual hockey magazine heading into the 2004-05 season that was ultimately eliminated by a lockout. Instead, they decided to produce a free PDF version.

We would all like to think that the NFL and NFLPA would never allow this fight to eat into the regular season, and, indeed, all involved have much more to lose than their hockey counterparts did. If the league still lacks a CBA at press time, though, do you go ahead with your usual magazine procedure? That’s a question each company will have to answer for itself.

Of course, even if no games are lost, a disruption to the usual schedule will greatly impact the content. Free agency can’t open without a new agreement, and Brandt pointed out on Twitter Friday that last year’s cap-free, altered rules will mean 500 free agents whenever the window opens. You know where Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will play their games next season, but how much prognostication can be done with so many guys facing potential address changes?


The magazine folks will feel it the most, but the impact would no doubt make its way to the Web as well.

David Dodds co-owns Footballguys.com, which relies on Web subscriptions to drive its annual revenues. Should labor unrest linger into the summer months and delay the start of on-field action, there’s little doubt subscription sales would wait, too. Dodds said that one option in such a case, because much of his writing staff is paid on a per-article basis, would be to start paying in credits. Those credits would represent a percentage of subscription sales and thus grow as subscribers return.

From a sheer production standpoint, of course, the longer the no-CBA period, the smaller the eventual window for season-prep advice. A flurry of free-agent signings and late-arriving rookies would mean a crunch in evaluation time and even later nights at what is already the busiest time of year for many content producers.

To that end, RotoWire president Peter Schoenke added that it would actually be tougher to prepare for and deal with a shortened training camp and preseason than for no season at all. The lack of season obviously wouldn’t help with fantasy revenues, but it would at least eliminate a lot of work.

The panel agreed that the worst case would be an NFL season proceeding with replacement players, but such a scenario seems highly unlikely, so let’s ignore it for now.

The Games

So we’ve gone over content, but what about the games — particularly the pay-to-play varieties?

Jeff Thomas — CEO of World Fantasy Games, which operates football contests via RapidDraft.com and SportsBuff.com (and owns and operates this site) — said that smart business folks will have a refund policy in place ahead of time. He also said that his company likely won’t collect entry fees until it’s clear that the NFL season will happen.

Obviously, free-game sites wouldn’t have to face the refund issue, but everyone would certainly be pinched by the large traffic drop that would follow the elimination of NFL games. It would also be interesting to see how fantasy players would react to a shortened NFL season: how much of the crowd wouldn’t return when the games did. Thomas pointed to the weekly version of RapidDraft, part of a new and growing market of short-term fantasy games that would be ready to start whenever NFL action did.

Couldn’t We All Go to College?

The question was raised of whether fantasy college football could see a boom if the 2011 NFL season went bust. The consensus: No.

Fantasy college football games would probably garner more players by way of the displaced NFL-based leagues, but they wouldn’t provide an automatic substitute. The game is still a different one, from the player universe to, in many cases, different league-hosting sites and the lack of preseason games to get familiar with college players.

As Schoenke pointed out, switching from the pro fantasy game to college would still present a learning curve, which is enough to scare off many users.

Please Render All This Moot

The bottom line for all fantasy companies, whether game or content based, is that all scenarios laid out above are at least possible. We all hope that the league and its players solve all their problems and get a new agreement in place before any portion of the 2011 NFL calendar is affected, and that very well might happen. Proceeding as though that is certain, however, would be a mistake.