Lead Stories

Sirius Drafts Cliff Floyd to Its Fantasy Baseball Team

Monday, February 14th, 2011

You might remember Cliff Floyd from such fantasy baseball seasons as 2005, when you scoffed at the buddy who drafted the then-Met only to luck into a career-high 34 homers and your league’s title.

This season, perhaps Floyd can point you toward some similar values.

That’s because the man who played for eight major-league teams over 17 seasons — most recently the Padres in 2009 — kicked off his career as a fantasy host on Monday.

Floyd will sit behind the mic three days a week on Sirius XM Fantasy Baseball, which airs 2-5 p.m. Eastern and also counts former Mets GM Steve Phillips as a host.

“We all know that winning is the name of the game in fantasy baseball,” Floyd said in the press release. “I’m looking forward to helping our listeners sort through pitcher/batter matchups, stats and all the other things that factor into wins and losses so all those fantasy GMs can dominate their leagues.”

Floyd debuted with the Expos in 1993 and also spent time with the Marlins, Red Sox, Cubs and Rays, in addition to the aforementioned Mets and Padres.


Are We Officially into Fantasy Baseball Time Now?

Monday, February 7th, 2011

There might not be an official turnover from fantasy football season to fantasy baseball until some brand decides to be the official soft drink of it — I’m looking at you, Royal Crown Cola — but Monday, Feb. 7, could stake a pretty strong claim this year.

The Super Bowl is now behind us, which officially ends the 2010 NFL season, means at least 14 minutes before the American sports scene jumps completely into NFL Draft hype and gives us about three days before we completely tire of Aaron Rodgers’ face. (That’s meant as a knock on the media blitz, not the player himself.)

On top of that, Baseball Prospectus rolled out early this morning its first batch of PECOTA player projections for the 2011 season.

Although we all wish the system were an annual homage to former Royals infielder Bill Pecota, the acronym stands for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm and is BP’s “proprietary system that projects player performance based on comparison with thousands of historical player-seasons,” according to the site. (Ed. note: Oops. I guess it is at least somewhat homage to The Real Pecota. I’m sure I knew that at some point and forgot.)

“Nate Silver is probably the most famous sabermetrician not named Bill James, and PECOTA is where Nate made his biggest mark in our community,” BP’s Colin Wyers said in presenting the first season of post-Silver PECOTA numbers. (Silver, of course, has moved on to the much more fantasy-laden world of politics with FiveThirtyEight.com.)

Wyers also acknowledged the strong impact of fantasy on the readership of his site in introducing an update to BP’s WARP stat: “We know that many of you are relying on these forecasts for your fantasy teams, and we thought that it was better to get the forecasts out now rather than wait for when the entire site was ready to transition to new WARP.”

In addition to BP, MLB.com has rolled out its 2011 fantasy coverage with the Player Preview package teased from its homepage.

Of course, others might argue that fantasy football season ended a while ago, and the “experts” draft at the recent Fantasy Sports Trade Association conference that was broadcast live by Sirius XM ushered in baseball time.

Then there are those who might not care about football and point back to the December release of Ron Shandler’s 2011 Baseball Forecaster, or perhaps the November arrival of the updated Bill James Handbook. Still others who might prefer to actually focus on their family for a bit no doubt await pitchers and catchers reporting before moving into baseball mode.

No matter, really. Until RC decides to throw its weight behind one of those dates, every stat geek can pick a favorite. Whether or not you’ve grabbed a guide or fired up Excel, there’s no doubt that fantasy baseball is fast approaching.

Related: PECOTA reaction on Twitter


NFBC Partners Back up with STATS

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

One of the key questions coming out of last month’s Fanball news was what would happen to the NFBC and NFFC going forward. Founder Greg Ambrosius answered that earlier this week site message boards.

The National Fantasy Baseball Championship — along with its football twin — has buddied back up with STATS, which provided technology services for the events before Fanball acquired the contests for the 2010 seasons.

Here’s what Ambrosius had to say in his Monday evening announcement:

“We’re proud to announce that STATS Inc will return as the back-end provider for this contest in 2011 and beyond. STATS ran the back-end software for the NFBC and NFFC from 2004-2009 and is the perfect partner for this contest going forward. More details will come shortly, but we wanted everyone to know this as soon as possible.

“STATS created many of the features that NFBC owners enjoyed in the past, such as an easy-to-use Conditional Bid setup, Live Standings for your league and overall standings that updated your position in real-time data, and a reliable FAAB process.

“We are VERY excited to be working with STATS Inc again and we have every confidence in the world that 2011 will be a smooth ride for our customers. The back-end software is being dusted off as we speak and it’s been tried and tested before. We believe 2011 will be a great season and we have plans for technological enhancements in the near future as well.”

Further details on the events can be gleaned from the message-board threads. Ambrosius said further announcements will follow but that the new NFBC site will include its own draft-room software that will be provided by STATS.

We’ll share any further details that become available to us.


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.