Yahoo! Manager Ratings Won’t Kill Fantasy

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Had I learned of Yahoo!’s new manager-rating function in its fantasy games either via the site’s “What’s New” page or sometime after my keeper league started back up, I’d have probably shrugged it off.

Hearing about it via an article titled, “The Verdict: Yahoo! is endangering fantasy sports,” however, left me reviewing the definitions for “ridiculous” and “preposterous” to see which was more appropriate. (I’ll go with the former.)

First of all, the new feature. Here’s Yahoo!’s description: “The manager rating system is a new feature that we’ve added to our fantasy games as of January 2011. It will enable you to rate other managers in your league (Positive, Neutral, or Negative) and provide a short comment about your experience playing with them.”

Here, now, is the reaction of Fantasy Judgment’s Michael A. Stein via the aforementioned article for HardballTimes.com:

“Here is an analogy: Yahoo is Skynet. Skynet is the network of computers in the “Terminator” movie series that gains control over all machines and electronics to destroy the human race. Once Skynet gained control of the government’s military and defense programs, it launched nuclear bombs at all targets, prompting retaliatory strikes and causing the deaths of billions of people. Essentially, Skynet was the puppet master as it sat back and watched humans destroy themselves.

“Here, Yahoo is pulling the strings of fantasy sports players by giving them the means of attacking each other with the ratings system. Granted, there will not be an exchange of nuclear weapons or mass genocide, but the point is that the wheels have been set in motion for people to take the competition to whole new level.”

Give me a turducken break.

Let’s start by assuming the worst case for this new feature: Yahoo! players left and right abuse it every time a leaguemate rejects their trade offer or makes a lopsided deal with someone else. Rogue public-league players spend days negatively grading opponents they’ve never met. Some team signs Gary Sheffield. (Sorry, I got carried away.)

Who would really be harmed in that scenario? Yahoo! would be either awash in customer-service complaints or suddenly lose fantasy players who would toddle over to ESPN.com or whatever other free fantasy provider they happened upon first. Or maybe such players would decide to stick with leagues populated by people they know and pay for a different commissioner service. Whatever the case, fantasy sports would probably survive.

In reality, Yahoo! itself says, “The manager ratings will be collected and tabulated internally at first. We won’t display them publicly until we have enough data to provide accurate and useful ratings.”

If anything even approximating the worst case comes to fruition, I would have to think Yahoo!’s internal reviewers will scrap the system and say, “Oh well. That didn’t work.”

I, on the other hand, think the manager-rating system could be a good tool for Yahoo!. The site has long sported the largest traffic numbers for fantasy games, but the primary concern has been the number of public leagues that get populated by managers who never manage or basically prove to be annoying. The rating system allows you to warn potential future leaguemates about such a manager while apparently not relying on each individual assessment.

At the same time, the ratings don’t look like they’ll have any real impact. If you’re running a league and someone with a negative rating overall tries to join, the current message doesn’t indicate that said player will have to pass any likability tests before being allowed in. It’ll still be up to you to judge. For the average fantasy player who competes mainly in leagues with people he knows, I doubt the rating system will even garner much use.

In his article, Stein seems to imply that this new rating system will introduce animosity into what is an otherwise peaceful pastime in which participants lob the occasional feather bomb but generally do so while smiling. The stance — for someone building a business on third-party conflict resolution for fantasy leagues — seems confusing at best.

I’ve met and talked with Stein and recently profiled his company on this very site, so I’m not suspecting nefarious motivation to his shot at Yahoo!. I do, however, believe that any fantasy league in need of outside resolution for trade disputes is in much worse shape than it would be for the presence of manager ratings.


FF Crystal Ball Finds Fantasy Football Trader Most Accurate

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

The “ranking the rankers” portion of the fantasy football pie has seen some growth over the past couple of years, and one recent entry announced its 2010 results on Thursday.

FantasyFootballCrystalBall.com (in conjunction with FFSpin.com) tracked weekly position rankings throughout the season and found FantasyFootballTrader.com the most accurate site for 2010.

FF Trader came out tops in projecting running backs, wide receivers and defense/special teams units for the season and also finished fifth for tight ends. FOXSports.com, which came in second overall, carried the quarterback and tight end positions, with FantasyFootballJungle.com placing No. 1 for kickers.

FF Trader and FOX were the only two sites to rank among the top five for each half of the NFL season. KFFL proved tops for the first half of the year, while FF Trader was the second-half leader.

The Crystal Ball/FF Spin contest included 19 fantasy sites.

That announcement comes the week after FantasyPros.com unveiled its top five performers in weekly ranking accuracy as part of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association conference. They were:

1. John Paulsen of The Scores Report

2. David Dodds of Footballguys.com

3. Andy Behrens of Yahoo!

4. Josh Moore of 4for4.com

5. Site rankings from FantasyFootballNerd.com


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.