Business Profile

Business Profile: FJ Fantasy Sports

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Company: FJ Fantasy Sports
Launch date: May 2002
Became full-time operation: 2004

Even if you weren’t aware of FJ Fantasy Sports, you’ve probably seen their products. Those big cardboard displays with the multi-colored player stickers standing at the center at events such as the WCOFF and FSTA conferences? You’re looking at FJ. Co-founder Jeff Peters, who left a career in corrugated cardboard for another in decorating it with player names, took some time recently to share his company’s story with

1. Let’s start at an obvious point: What does FJ stand for?

FJ is pig Latin for Jeff. When I was a kid, my best friend and I talked in pig Latin so his mother couldn’t figure out what kind of devious plans we were hatching. He was Ike-May and I was Eff-Jay. When it came time to choose a business name, Mike and I were sitting around trying to figure out a name, and this memory came back to us. It instantly became the business name.

2. Your site says that the boards came about when Mrs. Peters was charged with creating a grid for a baseball draft in 2002. What inspired her to create the board that launched the business, and what did the league like about it?

I knew she was a good artist, so I asked her to make me a grid for our upcoming baseball draft. The previous year we used an easel, but it was too small for anyone to see. So I asked her to make me a large grid, about 5 feet by 5 feet. I brought this piece of white corrugated home from work, and she decorated it beautifully with our league name and all the team names. We still have this “original” draft board.

3. You’ve been playing fantasy sports since 1990. What were those leagues doing for their drafts those first 12 years before requesting the board?

Back in 1990, during my first football draft, we used two gigantic pieces of brown corrugated. They were about 10 feet wide by 8 feet high. We had index cards with all the player names on them. All the cards were posted on one board (with push pins), and the grid was on the other. You’ve got to remember, we all worked at a corrugated box plant, so getting our “draft board” was easy!

4. How quickly did you envision a business sprouting from this board?

My wife, Pam, first brought the idea up. We had no idea if anything like this existed. We started checking ads in fantasy magazines and looking online to see if anyone made these. We found a few companies that did paper sheets. We knew that we had the resources to make a standup corrugated display that would not require any wall space. So we designed a draft board for 14 teams and 23 rounds, took a chance and invested some of our own money into the business and started with a small production run.

5. Describe the background in corrugated cardboard and the artistic skills that combined to make this happen. What has each meant to the creation (and sustainability) of FJ Fantasy Sports?

My background in selling corrugated for 30 years gave me the knowledge of what was possible to design and make out of corrugated. The company I worked for had some of the top designers in the industry, so I tapped their skill and knowledge, gave them the parameters of what I was trying to do and let them come up with the design. Everything was designed around UPS size limitations for shipping packages. Pam drew the design for the first FJ draft board grid, and we have stayed with it. It is a unique grid that allows us to use four different-sized labels on the same draft board.

6. How did you go about getting the business rolling back in 2002? How did you find that first round of customers (or how did they find you)?

When we started in May of 2002, it was already too late to buy any magazine ads for that football season. So we concentrated on trying to get our website recognized on the Internet. This is a tricky process when starting out, and we made a lot of mistakes. But we eventually got placement on Google, and that’s basically the only search engine you need to be on, since most others are fed by Google. In 2003, we bought some ads in fantasy magazines, and the business started to take off. But the biggest and best thing that happened to us was being found by Lenny Pappano, an original co-founder of the World Championship of Fantasy Football. Lenny needed a free-standing draft board for his Las Vegas tournament in 2003, and we had the makings of what he needed. He prodded us to develop the “Jumbo” board, and we ended up getting great exposure through his tournament.

7. What steps did you take to grow the business from there, and how quickly did growth come about?

Growth came quickly the first few years. We tried to introduce new products and features every year, such as adding 10-, 12-, and 16-team draft boards to our menu. We also added “Stands,” which turn the draft boards into 30-rounders. In addition, we added four more label sizes to the one that we started out with. So we now have a draft board for almost any size and type of draft.

8. The Internet had already made fantasy gaming so much easier by the time FJ was launched. What do you think still made your product so appealing to this marketplace? How has business changed in recent years with the array of fantasy-targeted products constantly widening?

The appeal of the FJ draft boards is that you don’t need a big wall to hang a paper sheet on. You can use our board anywhere in a room, and we have a label size that can be read from up to 35 feet away. This was ideal for the WCOFF tournament, and all the other tournaments picked up on it. Soon, all their customers wanted a draft board like they used at their high-stakes tournaments, and we were the only ones doing this. Because we do all the tournaments, our player label lists are the most extensive in the industry by far. We do not want to be embarrassed at a high-stakes tournament by having a lot of write-ins. The final “slice” of our success pie is customer service. Hundreds of our customers know us personally, and thousands more know us from talking on the phone. And they know they can trust us to do things quickly and correctly.

9. How have your products and your catalog changed to fit demand over the life of the business?

As mentioned (earlier), we added different sizes of draft boards, which would accommodate almost any league sizes. We started with a 14-team, 23-round board. Now we can handle any number of teams 10 or beyond, and up to 32 rounds. And most can be had in 5 different label sizes. So there is something for every league. We have added ancillary products such as draft clocks and Personal Draftlogs, tools to help in conducting a fantasy draft. We also branched out from the original football-baseball idea to now include hockey and basketball.

10. Any new directions that you plan to go or envision coming into play in the near future?

We constantly look for new ideas and ways to make things better for our customers, but we feel that we are in sort of a “mature” stage of our business evolution. We have kicked around the NASCAR idea for years but just can’t seem to get a handle on what to do with it.


Business Profile: RotoExperts

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Launch date: February 2008
Became full-time operation: June 2008
No. of employees: More than 30

RotoExperts blew onto the fantasy scene two years ago, making a particular splash by pulling in Scott Engel fresh off his stint with ESPN. Now Engel runs the day-to-day operations and took some time recently to tell about what’s going on with his growing company.

1. What gap did RotoExperts see in a fairly saturated market of fantasy content when it launched in 2008?

We saw a need for more professional-style, high-level fantasy content. We treat fantasy content as seriously as any newspaper or wire service treats its standard sports coverages. We follow AP style and demand the highest professional standards from our writers. Fantasy sports is serious, and we take it seriously. Our syndication partners have a desire for high quality content and we meet their needs. Plus, many outlets are outsourcing these days, and we are nimble and can customize content with our partners’ needs foremost in our plans.

2. What did you see in RotoExperts that led you there after stints with big boys CBS and ESPN?

During my CBS SportsLine days, I was part of a thrilling ride as the company became a major player in fantasy sports. I can always know and say I was part of something truly special. The same thrill ride is taking place at RotoExperts. We have very quickly built a highly recognized and credible site and have made some serious headway in an industry that is not easy to make a mark in. Landing the platforms we have has been a very rewarding experience, and I work with some great people who really know the business. Being part of a great management team is a spectacular experience in addition to continuing as a fantasy content generator.

3. The site seemed to be building its brand in the early going as much as building up the content. How important has that brand building been, and what kind of steps were or are key to that process?

It has been very important to us to establish credibility with both users and with our peers in the industry. Partnerships have helped us establish our presence very quickly as one of the top independent fantasy sites in the industry. People have come to know and trust us, and we highly value those that follow us and work with us. The steps in the process include identifying and adding staffers who are willing to meet standards and help the business grow. Also, to share the quality of our content and experience and visions of our management team with partners.

4. How did you go about building content partnerships with major outlets such as and Yahoo! Sports?

Such sites have high standards when it comes to fantasy content, and we share similar views and commitments to quality. Having worked closely with many of the people in the past, we knew we were on the same page in terms of delivering analysis and insights. Yahoo! Sports appreciates the diversity of our content as well as the approach, and our editorial teams have worked closely with each other since the beginning. Again, having previous relationships with current and key Yahoo! staffers only eased the initial process.

5. RotoExperts has maintained a pretty strong Fantasy Sports Channel presence from early on, and you just added the SIRIUS XM deal. What has been the role of radio in building your site’s identity? How did the SIRIUS gig come about, and what does it mean for you guys?

Building and maintaining strong broadcasting presences has always been a goal of ours, and being on BlogTalkRadio allowed us to get more personal with users and further establish credibility while allowing us to build another professional presence. Fantasy players do not always want to sit and read, they like to be informed and entertained, too. We have a strong relationship with the Sirius XM team and had shared similar visions about a Fantasy Sports Channel. Now is the time to make such an idea become reality, and as the morning drive program, we lead off history in the making every day. That says a lot about the credibility and impact of the RotoExperts brand. Again, we demand high standards of content in all mediums, whether it’s written or spoken word.

6. Making money as a free content site is harder now than it might have been a few years back. What led you guys to go free and stay that way, even with material such as draft kits that some free sites might sell? What are the chances of going pay - or even adding a pay component such as a “premium” content level - down the road?

It was important for us to establish trust and credibility with users. We have reached those goals and now have a significant following. We have just launched our first-ever premium package, named the Xclusive Edge. People already know what they can get for free from us, and now they can get even higher levels of content and tools in a very price-friendly bundle. At the heart of our new package is our Xclusive Edge rankings and projections, for both drafting and lineup purposes. The RotoExperts “Supercomputer” takes more than 30 factors into account to come up with amazingly accurate player ratings, preseason and in-season. We are also offering live fantasy advice every day of the week. Get personal answers from some of the best of the biz, all year long. Fantasy experts are standing by!

7. RotoExperts has always sported a pretty large writing staff. How have you gone about scouting and adding writers?

We receive a lot of interested applicants, but we also seek out those who are willing to learn in a very professional environment. Our management team has a knack for identifying and adding only the best prospects. They have to be willing to meet our high standards and help us continue to build the brand. I personally review every applicant, and after many years in this business, not just anyone is going to pass the initial test or interview. It’s a rare bird who fuses promising writing skills with expert analysis. It’s our goal to find those people and mold them into something and someone fantasy players can trust.

8. You introduced Upset Challenge during football season last year. Should we expect to see more games from RotoExperts? If so, what role will they serve from a business standpoint?

We will be rolling out the Upset Challenge again this year, and it will be even bigger, better and more compelling. Look for the launch this summer. It’s the most unique and addictive game that you should play this year. You pick three NFL teams every week to possibly score the biggest upsets and earn big points and win great prizes. It makes rooting for the underdog better than ever. It really rewards your predictive skills in pro football.

9. Earlier this year, you put together a new board of directors, headed by Spackman Capital Group CEO Martin Mohabeer. What do he and the other board members mean for the site going forward?

Martin’s addition validates our visions to further grow RotoExperts as a major player in the industry. He sees the growth potential and exciting opportunities that still are there for the taking in a fantasy industry that is only going to continue to explode. Martin’s benchmarks and background in financial services and strategic development can only help us identify and seize the best opportunities out there. Our board is dedicated to making RotoExperts a long-lasting presence in the industry, one that will only continue to grow in reach and presence. We have some great visions of how to bring our top-notch fantasy information and insights to unique and distinctive platforms.

10. What are your plans for Fantasy Grinder, acquired earlier this year?

It’s a great application that can be a real difference-maker in the fantasy industry. Incorporate the Grinder into your league, and no more surfing all over the league site for all the info you need in one place, including expert advice and even trash talk.

The Grinder acts as a digital “beat reporter” for your Fantasy team and churns out unique and distinctive game previews and wrap-ups for every team in your league. It’s sleek, highly versatile and fresh, entertaining and informative. It makes the average fantasy league manager or game even more compelling and retentive. It’s drawn rave reviews from those who have been allowed behind the curtain so far. Think of a digital beat reporter assigned to your team who not only covers the games, but quotes you and offers advice of his own.

We plan to make the Grinder a reality in fantasy leagues, and once we do, those who play in such leagues will find it to be completely addictive. There have been attempts by others to do a Grinder-like product, but none matches ours for its customization and personalization.


Business Profile: Fantrax

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

Company: Fantrax
Launch date: October 2008
Became full-time operation: 2006
No. of employees: 8 (Some part-time)

There are many players in the fantasy league management space that the general playing public probably never hears about. That’s due in large part to the big three: Yahoo!, ESPN and CBS Sports. Lee Kleiner and his band of programmers, however, brought to market a slick site that supports a lot of sports and lets you play for free. The president of Fantrax took some time out this week to tell about the creation of their system and where the company is headed.

1. Your site talks about starting with “a group of fantasy sports enthusiasts.” How big a group was this to start, how did it come together and what kind of programming experience was brought to the table?

There were five of us at the start, soon after to be seven. As highly skilled software developers, we felt our talent was being “wasted” in the corporate world, which largely lacks innovation and the desire to incur the time and expense to build top-quality software. We felt that if we could find an industry with a high barrier to entry due to software complexity, and where we could build a vastly superior product and have the capability to sell it, we would have a winning combination. Not only did fantasy sports fit the bill, but several of us were already seasoned fantasy sports players. Our team primarily consisted of highly talented and very experienced software architects and developers working in the corporate sector.

2. How long was the “vision” for your platform discussed before you began to develop it? How long was it in development before going live?

We started development on a prototype quite quickly. The product was in development for approximately 5 years before going live.

3. The league-hosting universe is dominated by some of the biggest names and outlets in sports media. What made Fantrax decide to seek a place at the same table? What kind of goals have you set along the way for realistic audience size?

We saw the fantasy sports industry as underserved by the (existing) providers in several ways. Firstly, there was no multi-sport, multi-language leader consolidating the market. Secondly, the technology that the existing providers employed would make it very difficult to extend their products to the kind of customizability we felt was necessary for a true commissioner product with global reach. We also believed that some of the big players were unable or unwilling to offer sports that were not already part of their established business. For example, we didn’t believe CBS would offer Premiership soccer, because they don’t broadcast it.

We set modest growth targets of 50,000 users in our first phase (which we have now surpassed), and significant accelerated growth targets in our next phase.

4. What kind of startup costs went into Fantrax, which features an impressively broad and probably labor intensive platform? How have you gone about marketing the service?

The cost to build such a platform is quite immense, as anyone in the commissioner product business would understand. We have been investing primarily in (research and development) thus far, but are now ready to ramp up our marketing spend. So far, targeted web marketing, cross-promotional activities and, of course, word of mouth have been successful for us.

5. What sports did you offer at the start, and what has been the timeline for adding to that lineup? How do the user bases for your various other sports compare with that for NFL?

Although our platform has always supported all sports, we released NHL hockey and NBA basketball first, since they were a little simpler in their intricacies. We have been able to add new sports in very short order — typically about 3-4 months. That timeline has been even shorter for adding new leagues in sports we already have (e.g. college football and college basketball).

Although NFL is the leader as expected, we are getting solid traction in all our sports (except golf so far, which we released this season in Beta), and our usage in other sports relative to NFL is higher than industry standards.

6. Fantrax prides itself on free offerings, but doesn’t that limit your growth in a marketplace that is so loaded with big-name providers? What kind of revenue is generated by the pay-to-play games?

From the beginning, our strategy has been to balance the user-growth capabilities of offering a free service with the revenue that comes from offering premium products. We will always offer some form of free commissioner product but plan to offer premium products for a fee in the near future.

7. Your site says “free forever,” but is there a level that other revenue generation has to sustain to make that doable?

We have plans to roll out some very exciting “premium” (fee-based) products and contests that a very large number of fantasy sports players are going to use and participate in.

8. The site also touts the speed with which user-requested changes are implemented. How often are such adjustments made, and what have been some of the most significant alterations asked for by users?

New features are added pretty much every week, sometimes several in a week. The product roadmap is a healthy mix of user requests and our own innovations. One recent example is the capability to replicate the player pool across divisions, so each division can draft from their own pool, as opposed to a single pool for the entire league. Requests for this feature came from the football users.

9. How has your rate of audience growth been each year?

About 300 percent.

10. What’s next for Fantrax? Any new sports on the horizon, new wrinkles in the business plan, etc.?

Some of the upcoming sports offered by Fantrax are soccer, Formula 1, and cricket. We are also adding new language translations for our worldwide audience. Plus, we have an exciting lineup of premium products and pay-to-play contests.


Business Profile: Insider Sports Media

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Company: Insider Sports Media, LLC
Launch date: 2006
Became full-time operation: 2006
No. of employees: 4 partners and 8 contract writers

College football has grown rapidly in recent years and remains among the leaders in growth potential on the American fantasy sports scene. Whether college basketball holds similar promise is still unclear, but the founders of Insider Sports Media are strong believers in both. One of those three founders, Alex Esselink, took some time to tell about the company he and his partners are growing from their start at

1. Fantasy college sports have only really entered the public conscious over the past couple of years. How long have you guys been playing it, and how long have you been doing so online?

Our first foray into fantasy sports was in 1999 when we started a BCS conference-only fantasy football league. NFL fantasy football was just starting to hit its stride, but our group always loved the college game, so we started the league. We built a crude website to manage the league and wrote some content. And that was eventually the springboard for our first site,

Initially all of our scoring was still done in excel. We’ve been using online league managers since around 2006, but we still love excel.

2. What made you see a market for college fantasy content when that segment of fantasy players was comparatively miniscule?

Heading into it we didn’t really know what the market for college fantasy sports was, we were two engineers and an English teacher that weren’t connected to the industry at all. But what we did know was it was a vastly underdeveloped market, and it was something we were passionate about. We also knew there were other folks like us craving information.

3. What was your goal from the outset, and what kind of time and startup costs went into the launch?

Our start-up costs were pretty small compared to most. We built Insider Sports Media (originally, LLC) on sweat equity. Although we outsource some of the writing, web design, etc., most everything we do — from coding to content — comes from the inside.

A lot of startup fantasy companies seem to have large startup costs. Either they’re launching new tech-heavy fantasy games or trying to get noticed quickly with a big marketing budget. We are proof that you don’t need to have large investment capital to build a site and get noticed. You just need a lot of time, patience and some really understanding wives. A lot also goes on behind the scenes on a daily basis to make sure we are hitting all aspects.

4. What have been some of the benchmark moments/changes for your company so far? What partnerships have you developed?

Without a doubt, our relationship with Rotoworld really helped us out early on. Not only from a financial standpoint, but it also helped us become better at what we do. None of us were writers going into this. But we all had an intimate knowledge of college football. We’ve basically been learning the rest as we go. But without the push from Rotoworld early on, we don’t think we’d be where we are today.

Last year was a big year for us as well. We completely revamped our site from the inside-out. We started in January 2009 and launched just under the wire before football season in August. We added a lot of user functionality, such as picking your own player trackers and scoring inputs, as well as doing weekly projections for every player on all 120 college football teams.

We also felt it was time to expand. We had a great Content Management System (CMS) on the backend so we used that to launch last August and in January of this year.

5. How does Insider Sports Media make money?

Most of our revenue is through advertising on the site. Content licensing is another revenue stream.

We’ve beefed up our technical capability and built our own CMS that we are looking to market to those looking for help in that area. Having a system built specifically for your needs gives you so much more flexibility than a number of the pre-packaged blog systems out there. Our technology is definitely a strength for our current sites and future sites.

6. How has fantasy life changed for you since the well-publicized decision by to add player names to its college football fantasy game?

Our site’s traffic has more than doubled each year since 2006. We can only assume this is a CFF-wide trend, but it’s hard to pinpoint how much of that increase is due to’s decision to use player names in their game. We’ll see the biggest boost when the broadcast networks start integrating fantasy into their programming, like we see in the NFL. ESPN started doing it a little bit last fall, but it was late on Friday night. Of course, they’ll have to drag the NCAA kicking and screaming.

7. Fantasy college football has gotten a big bump in the past couple of years, but basketball not so much. What led you guys to launch College Fantasy Hoops Insider last year?

For the same reasons that we launched the football site. There seems to be a group of hardcore college fantasy basketball fans out there and very little information geared toward them. Of course, we love college basketball. It is still small, but so was college fantasy football when we started five years ago. We believe fantasy college hoops will grow, especially as more sites develop games centered on the NCAA tournament.

We also got a little bit lucky. We were able to find writers that are just as passionate about college basketball as we are about football. They are doing a remarkable job.

8. How does the growth potential for the college basketball market compare with that for college football?

It’s a matter of making the game approachable for the average college basketball fan, and I think our industry has a lot of work to do here. The NCAA tournament will always be the main event in this sport, so we aim to build on that and give people a reason to pay attention earlier. The potential is certainly there.

9. You’ve also recently added NFL Draft Day Insider and will soon collaborate in the launch of What do you hope to accomplish with those outlets?

Draft Day Insider was a very natural extension of what we do every day because we follow college football players from the recruiting stage all the way through graduation. So we thought we had something to say about the NFL Draft and maybe we’d bring a different perspective than some of the other draft sites. We had always done some NFL Draft information on our college football site, but we felt it could stand alone.

The biggest challenge for us here is we are entering an already-developed market. There are countless NFL Draft sites. However, we feel the way our site is laid out and the extent of the information it provides — from draft history to current player news — makes us different. Most sites concentrate on one or two elements, we want to give NFL Draftniks one place to get it all.

League Runners is a project we’re working on with Roto Ethos Media that will basically serve as a website resource for fantasy league commissioners of any sport. Insider Sports Media is going to supply most of the technology and Roto Ethos will focus on the content side of things.

10. What else should we expect to see from you guys going forward? Do you have any designs on hosting fantasy college sports, which still doesn’t enjoy a wealth of league-hosting sites?

Our goal is to help the college fantasy football and basketball markets grow in any way we can. So the plan is to encourage more league-hosting options to enter the college market and working with firms that are developing new games instead of building games ourselves. We may run some contests from time-to-time, but that is not our core business.

We’ve been working with a few of our partners on ways that would make it easier for someone a little hesitant to take the leap to give CFF a try. We can’t count the number of times we’ve heard someone say “there are too many teams,” “it’s illegal” or something similar. If we can change the perception that college fantasy is harder to play than NFL fantasy, then we can count on continued growth in the market.

We are also always tinkering in the off-season. So we’ll have some changes coming to based on user feedback, and we’ll be refining our system more and more. We’re excited, but we are still a ways away from any announcements. We don’t want to over-promise and under-deliver.