January 11th, 2011

It’s Official: Fanball to Close

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

This message was posted at the top of the homepage at Fanball.com late Tuesday afternoon:

The management of Fanball.com has determined to cease operations, effective as of June 30, 2011. Commissioner, Draft & Play, and Challenge games already in progress for NBA, NHL and NFL will continue to their conclusion. Prize payouts for the NBA, NHL and NFL games already in progress will be honored according to Fanball game rules. Fanball.com will not initiate new games for the NBA playoffs, the NHL playoffs or any other sports, and will promptly send a refund to customers of entry fees for 2011 PGA Tour Trade 1 and PGA Tour Trade 2.

Please visit the My Account page on www.fanball.com in order to ensure that Fanball.com has your current address for sending any disbursements.

We have to assume that “management of Fanball.com” refers to Liberty Media, based on the way this story has developed. This, of course, is merely confirmation of what we reported late last week and offers no details about specific pieces of the operations beyond what is mentioned in the official note.

The biggest and most interesting question in the wake of this announcement is what becomes of the National Fantasy Baseball Championship, whose site carries no message as of this writing about the changes at Fanball and which has been taking entries up to this point.

The NFBC and it’s football relative remained under the guidance of founder Greg Ambrosius and Tom Kessenich through Fanball’s acquisition of the contests, so we’ll see how the events come through. In a message-board thread in which he shared the official Fanball announcement with the NFBC community, Ambrosius also offered the following:

While there is never good news in a historic company being shut down, please realize that some things are still unannounced and undecided. Hopefully there’s a reason for that. I don’t know what will happen or if anything will happen with these assets, but they’re not mentioned here in this first statement and that isn’t all bad.

Tom, myself and most of the Fanball employees are still employed today by Liberty Media, the message boards are still active, all of our players will be paid in full, employees now at least know the terms of their time at Fanball, and life moves on. It’s tragic to see such an important company leave this space, but it happens and folks move on.

Again, the boards are still alive. Use them for encouragement and positive thoughts, not to bash anyone or any entity. Let’s stay hopeful that all things will work out for this great industry, for these great games, for these great customers and hopefully this great community of like-minded baseball and football fanatics will remain intact. That’s my prayer tonight.

As this situation moves forward, we should begin to get a clearer picture of how this and other lingering questions get answered, and FSB.com will provide updates as they become available.


Court Rules Titlecraft Trophy Too Close to Lombardi

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

While our attention was elsewhere last year, apparently Titlecraft was in the courtroom fighting NFL action against it’s primary product — and losing.

Titlecraft, which launched in 2008 to build custom fantasy football trophies, said that it received a letter in August 2009 from the NFL “alleging, among other things, trademark infringement, false designation of origin and false description and trademark dilution.” Basically, the NFL accused Titlecraft of copying its primary design from the Lombardi Trophy and thus infringing on the trademark the league holds to that design.

Facing threat of litigation by the league, Titlecraft filed suit against the NFL in March 2010 seeking declaratory judgment that the league had no base for its claims and that Titlecraft would not be liable for any damages. The NFL countered and moved for partial summary judgment against Titlecraft. Unfortunately for the trophy company, even filing in the historically fantasy-friendly U.S. District Court in Minnesota didn’t help.

As Michael A. Stein of FantasyJudgment.com deftly explains in his blog post on the case (which alerted us to its presence), the court easily ruled that the design was too similar, as were the purposes for which the trophies existed (football-based championships).

“No ordinary observer could conclude that Titlecraft’s trophies have anything but the same concept and feel as the Lombardi Trophy,” the decision read.

Visitors to the Fantasy Judgment write-up can see the comparative pictures of the two trophies in question and judge for themselves. Visitors to the Titlecraft site will see an altered design for the signature trophy (also at left here).

It’s not yet clear what sort of penalty Titlecraft might be responsible for paying, but the case can serve as a reminder for fantasy companies to be careful in making sure that your product is truly unique, to the point that you can prove its uniqueness.