Posts Tagged ‘fantasy sports publications’

Magazine Producers Need Labor Resolution by NFL Draft

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

Anyone who hopes to watch NFL games in 2011 obviously first has to hope for a new labor deal. If your business includes producing fantasy football magazines, the timeline for such a deal becomes even more important.

The developments — or relative lack thereof — over the past week of negotiations brings that issue into focus. The NFL and its players association extended last week the collective-bargaining deadline, pausing a potential chain of events that could have led to months in the courtroom.

According to’s Jim Trotter, negotiations nearly reached the breaking point before the extension. That would seem to enhance the importance of this week’s talks in avoiding a summer-long feud, which would crush the fantasy-magazine market for 2011.

Periodical producers have to be on pins and needles this week, right? Well, although all are certainly watching with interest, most have their eyes trained harder on NFL Draft weekend.

“This week on its own does not mean much if there was another week extension and then a deal,” RotoWorld managing editor Gregg Rosenthal told “It will be business as usual as long as there is NFL free agency before the NFL Draft.”

That notion was echoed by RotoWire president Peter Schoenke: “I think the NFL draft is probably a bigger deadline because it’s around the time we usually put together all the specifics for the magazine and we’ll need to see how much the editorial may suffer without off-season transactions.”

That’s the key issue in fantasy circles. The national media might be focused more on the negotiating stumbling blocks, the whereabouts of NFLPA counsel Jeffrey Kessler and the impact it all could have on the 2011 season.

We, however, need free agents to settle somewhere — even more so than usual. The no-CBA rules of 2010 changed the timeline for a league veteran reaching unrestricted free agency, and the result is a free-agent class of more than 500 players. It’s hard enough in a normal NFL calendar to project the outlook for hundreds of players and 32 team situations months ahead of time. Right now, content producers don’t even have the colors necessary to paint those pictures.

“Right now I’m researching cover subjects and the uncertainty of numerous potential free agents makes that a tougher task than in the past,” said Matt McKenzie, the lead editor for Sporting News’ Fantasy Football yearbook. “It also doesn’t help when it comes to our team reports, as there are some teams that have major holes across the board, which makes it hard to key in on their fantasy focuses.”

Of course, any delay that the labor issues shove into the off-season calendar will affect production schedules and could shrink the window for sales. The relative upside — very relative — is that this issue didn’t surprise NFL followers.

We’ve known for two years that winter 2011 would likely bring acrimony, and companies have had time to think about how to treat a potential lockout.

“We have been working under the assumption that a lockout is inevitable,” said Mitch Light, managing editor for Athlon Sports. “This negotiation extension gives us some hope, we still have to plan for all different scenarios.

Light said that his staff is in the process of setting a “drop-dead” date for production to start.

“If the lockout drags on for too long it just doesn’t make sense for us to publish a fantasy magazine,” he said. “Once we come up with that date, we will just sit back and wait.”

Others, however, plan to go to press whether the bickering has ended or not.

“Unfortunately, there’s not much to do but move forward the best we can,” McKenzie said for the SN magazine. “Some of the articles and capsules will have to be written a little looser than years before given the unknown free-agent situation, but I have no doubt we can still put out a quality magazine.”

Rosenthal shared a similar sentiment, relaying RotoWorld’s plan to publish even in an NFL standstill. He did point out, though, that a long struggle could lead to just a single edition being produced rather than the normal two-edition cycle.

Fantasy Index co-owner Bruce Taylor said his company has changed its contract structure for advertisers this year to suit the NFL situation. Normally a “cash-basis business,” Index is instead selling ad space in its fantasy football magazine on a “bill-me-later basis.”

“If the players and owners reach a settlement prior to the NFL draft, then we’ll execute the contracts,” Taylor said. “If an agreement is reached after the NFL draft but before May 15, then we’ll publish as usual, but likely with a smaller press run and a shorter on-sale period. We will reduce our advertising rates in direct proportion with the reduction in press run, and we’ll give advertisers the option to cancel their insertion orders.”

Smaller sales windows and downward adjustments in advertising rates are clearly scenarios that all hope not to encounter. The magazine business is tough enough these days, and fantasy content providers likely face an uphill battle to generate profits from these publications under normal conditions.

This will be a telling week for many throughout our industry, whether it ends with a labor deal or not. A new collective bargaining agreement by Friday would be the ideal, so that all could proceed with annual off-season plans. A further extension would mean more waiting and building anxiety, though it would also foster hope of a deal before the draft. Of course, a breakdown-lockout-lawsuit finish would be bad news.

For now, Fantasy Sports Publications founder Emil Kadlec says it’s not worth dissecting every step of the bargaining process.

“We’re obviously watching with great interest but whether a deal is done this week isn’t vital to our plans,” he told “We believe the deal will be done by the NFL draft which would fit well into our normal timeframe. Worst case, if needed, a one or two week on-sale date change is the most logical contingency. I think it’s best not to get caught up in the day-to-day drama of negotiations.”


Fantasy Sports History: The GOPPPL

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

In the beginning, there was fantasy golf …

That’s right. Back before anyone had played or even heard about fantasy baseball, fantasy football or fantasy American Idol, Bill “Wink” Winkenbach developed a weekly fantasy golf game to be played among friends.

It was just what you would expect such a game to be: Participants selected a group of golfers among the entrants for that weekend’s tournament, submit the lineup to Winkenbach — “He was always the secretary,” says Scotty Stirling, whom you’ll get to know better in a bit — and then score based on the performance of those golfers through the weekend.

It was the late 1950s, and right around that same time, Winkenbach applied his fantasy model - though they certainly weren’t calling it “fantasy” back then, nor anytime soon after — to baseball as well. It’s a story that lives out in the public, though it doesn’t garner much publicity.

Amid a comprehensive recounting of fantasy’s birth with Winkenbach and crew, the 2003 Fantasy Football Pro Forecast told readers about the S.T. SIHRT — a title even longer than its more-famous, the GOPPPL. The Superior Tile (Winkenbach’s tile company) Summer Invitational Home Run Tourney provided a format similar to that for golf.

Entrants put together a team of major-league pitchers and home run hitters and then reaped points for the stats those players amassed each night. (Sound familiar?) Today’s myriad categories, formats and advanced stats might make such a game seem rudimentary by comparison, but it was a much greater undertaking to support a game back then. The person in charge had to pore over every box score for each game involved, tally everything up and disseminate the results to the group.

Nevertheless, the game took hold, with the S.T. SIHRT continuing to run more than 40 years later. Of course, the most significant impact of that and it’s golf-centered sibling just might have been its better-known spin-off.

It was October 1962, and the Oakland Raiders were in the midst of the kind of three-week East Coast trip typical of NFL travel schedules in that day. The schedule would group together games against, say, the Jets, Patriots and Bills to allow the team just two cross-country flights (there and back) instead of six. Settled in New York City for a stretch of five or six days, Scotty Stirling, George Ross and Bill Tunnell joined Winkenbach in their Manhattan hotel (now known as the Milford Plaza) for some drinks and sports talk — just the kind of thing you’d expect a group of guys traveling with a team to do.

Stirling, then the Raiders beat writer for the Oakland Tribune, recalls Winkenbach — who owned a small piece of the Raiders’ franchise — describing to the others the golf and baseball games he’d been running for a few years.

“When he’s telling us about this, the idea occurred: Why don’t we do a football one?” Stirling recently told

Though Stirling doesn’t remember which man spoke up about starting the football contest, it took approximately no convincing for the whole group to get on board. That night, Winkenbach, Stirling, Ross (then sports editor for the Tribune) and Tunnell (then the Raiders’ public relations man) hammered out the rules for the very first edition of the game that now draws around 20 million players a year.

(Most accounts seem to mention three participants in this planning session, with the Forecast writeup quoting Winkenbach as saying Ross and Stirling joined him, whereas this story from Fantasy Index leaves out Ross and includes Tunnell. Stirling told that all four men were present.)

“Everybody was excited,” Stirling said. “It seemed as we put it together there that it was going to be a hell of a game. Everybody thinks they’re a general manager.”

Over about four hours, amid the growing excitement — and another round here and there — the quartet laid the base for the Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prediction League, or GOPPPL for those without enough free time to repeat the full name.

(Note: The common display of the league’s full name includes “Prognosticators” in place of “Prediction,” but our copy of the GOPPPL’s “official rules & regulations says otherwise.)

The four sports nuts took their new concept back home at the end of the trip and quickly recruited four more owners: Raiders radio voice Bob Blum, season ticket sellers Phil Carmona and Ralph Casebolt, and ticket manager George Glace. If the connection among all of these participants seems obvious, it should. GOPPPL rules, after all, clearly stated that to be eligible for team ownership, one had to have:

1. Affiliation with an AFL professional football team in an administrative capacity.
2. A direct relationship to professional football in a journalistic capacity.
3. Either have purchased or have sold ten (10) season tickets for the Oakland Raiders.

Now, by today’s standards, an eight-team league is an entry point for novices, the kind of setup you might trip through a draft and still win because of a deep pool of players and an abundance of free information online at any moment. This was a league, though, that centered on the eight-team AFL (the reason for GOPPPL going eight-deep) with a smattering of NFL imports at a time that presented one NFL preview guide, Street & Smith’s, and nearly non-existent injury news. A person had to really know the game, follow it religiously and dig to be able to put together a roster of quality players.

That’s why the GOPPPL owners each selected another person to serve as manager, though each franchise’s tandem worked more like co-managers. Stirling turned to friend and tavern owner Andy Mousalimas, who has described the feeling in that draft room as “euphoric.”

“That first night, it was really fun,” Mousalimas recounted for “The more we drafted … it was just exciting.”

The group gathered at Winkenbach’s house for that first event — a venue soon swapped out for restaurant banquet rooms — and put together rosters comprising four offensive ends, four halfbacks, two quarterback, two fullbacks, two kickers, two return men, two defensive backs and two defensive linemen.

According to a 2003 story by Ed Barkowitz of the Philadelphia Daily News, that first first round looked like this:

1. George Blanda, QB, Houston (AFL) — who would later be drafted by a second team as a kicker, per GOPPPL rules.
2. Jim Brown, FB, Cleveland (NFL)
3. Tobin Rote, QB, San Diego (AFL)
4. Cookie Gilchrist, FB, Buffalo (AFL)
5. Jack Kemp, QB, Buffalo (AFL)
6. Y.A. Tittle, QB, N.Y. Giants (NFL)
7. Curtis McClinton, RB, Kansas City (AFL)
8. Jim Taylor, FB, Green Bay (NFL) — selected by Glace and Ron Wolf, the same Ron Wolf who would later serve as Packers general manager.

Just as it is today, the allure for those involved was clear.

“The idea that you can draft your own team really turns guys on,” Stirling told Fantasy Index. “I know in Oakland some guys thought they were really building a football team. In their own minds they were probably another Al Davis.”

It was an evolution of love for the game of football and the connection among friends and associates who reveled in this same love. From the start, it was a way for fans to come together in their common interest and get closer to the game. It was a time-consuming activity that, like today, probably got taken a little too seriously more often than the participants would like to admit.

Take the original set of rules, which outlines “Purpose of League” thusly:

“The purpose of this league is to bring together some of Oakland’s finest Saturday morning gridiron forecasters to pit their respective brains (and cash) against each other. Inasmuch as this league is formed only with owners having a deep interest and affection for the Oakland Raiders Professional Football Team, it is felt that this tournament will automatically increase closer coverage of daily happenings in professional football.

Inasmuch as this test of skill and knowledge of the players in the AFL and NFL leagues will be backed with coin of the realm, it behooves each club owner to study carefully, prior to draft, all available statistics, schedules, weather conditions, player habits, and other factors, so as to preserve one’s prestige and finances.

Lack of skill or study will also afford the heaviest loser the yearly trophy, symbolic of the loser’s ineptness in this grueling contest. This award will be presented by the League Commissioner at the Annual GOPPPL Banquet, held in late January for club owners, coaches and wives.”

That first commissioner was, of course, Winkenbach — not only the universally recognized godfather of the concept but, as the Forecast article pointed out, “as a small business owner, he already had the necessary equipment: i.e. phone lines, typewriters and mimeograph machine.” That, of course, was necessary for collecting and disseminating all league transmissions at a time when people couldn’t easily check their own scores and had to manually submit lineups the Thursday before each week’s games.

As for that last-place trophy — or “Dunce Prize” — Stirling says it was a truly impressive item that Winkenbach made himself, on the wood lathe in his basement. The loser in each season had to take that trophy home from the banquet and display it on his mantle until he could (hopefully) hand it off to the next unlucky individual a year later. If anyone was caught not displaying the dishonor, Stirling says, he was in trouble.

So, 40 full years before we were introduced to concepts such as the World Championship of Fantasy Football, and long before we had racks of glossy magazines from any outlet you can imagine, this visionary group not only created a game that can now be found on the NFL’s website and those of every major sports media outlet, they invented concepts such as the draft, individual defensive players, and a trophy that encourages even the worst teams to play out the season. Did any of them foresee the growth potential that has gotten us to this point?

“We didn’t see any growth in it,” Stirling said. “It was fun for the guys doing it. No one dreamed that it would spread as far as it did. I can remember years later, talking with Wink and saying, ‘Goddamn, we should have copyrighted that thing.’ It never occurred to us.

“I don’t remember 2 seconds of conversation with anyone.”

Winkenbach did try to get a board-game version of GOPPPL into production with George Ross, but the effort never came together. Mousalimas, who would introduce the game to his Kings X patrons and play a key role in its evolution, did see some of the game’s potential and once broached the business subject with Winkenbach. When the godfather shot down any idea of trademarking, though, Mousalimas didn’t push any harder.

So GOPPPL went on for years in relative quiet, as other versions of the game it launched sprouted in various places. No matter whether or how many of those games branched directly from the Oakland activities, GOPPPL and its baseball and golf predecessors started fantasy sports.

More on the origination of fantasy football :

Fantasy Pro Forecast
Fantasy Index
Fantasy Football Guidebook

Any tips, stories, links, etc. related to the history of fantasy sports should be sent to [email protected].


Nobody Keeps Up with Jones in FSWA Baseball Race

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Both League Championship Series are still being hotly contested, but the 48-person inaugural FSWA championship is in the books.

Mike Jones of Fantasy Sports Publications knocked off a large group of fellow fantasy sports mavens to win the Fantasy Sports Writers Association title — thanks in no small part, he says, to an oft-overlooked position.

“In this format, using two catchers, I wanted to invest early in having two solid catchers, as I thought that would be an advantage over someone with a weakness at one of their catcher positions,” Jones told He “got a little lucky that Victor Martinez had the bounce back year that he had, and Brian McCann was fairly solid throughout the season. I was able to plug them in for the entire year and basically forget about it, which I liked.”

Jones also said later-round draft pick Mark Reynolds offered big help, as did free-agent pickups Andrew McCutchen, Chris Coughlan and Rajai Davis. A pitching staff fronted by Justin Verlander and Tim Lincecum — whom the longtime Giants fan conceded was a bit of a “homer pick” — rounded out the team, but Jones said he didn’t have the title locked up until the season’s extra game between Detroit and Minnesota.

“The 163rd game was a real tricky proposition, and I attacked it very aggresively, hitting the waiver wire as soon as I heard it would count,” Jones said. “I basically remade my entire team with whatever Twins and Tiger players were available. As it turned out, it ended up being a real dogfight with the OBP and SLG percentages. When (Carlos) Gomez scored, ending the game, I could finally breathe a sigh of relief.”

The final group of 12 competitors pulled top finishers from the four 12-team leagues. (See full results here, here, here and here.)  ESPN’s Pierre Becquey, RotoExperts’ Tommy Landry, Sports Grumblings’ John Rakowski and Football Diehards’ Ginny Loveless rounded out the final top five.

The FSWA baseball league followed last season’s inaugural Industry Insiders’ football league, won by Footballguys’ Sigmund Bloom. FSWA president Mike Beacom said the FSWA hopes the leagues help to bring together writers from around the growing industry. hosted the FSWA baseball competition, with Jones, Loveless, Perry Missner and James Quintong carrying out commissioner duties.


Personal Profile: Bob Harris

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

Name: Bob Harris
Job title(s): Senior Editor at Fantasy Sports Publications Inc.
Full-time in fantasy? Yes
Age: 47
Education: Just enough to be dangerous
Family status: Single (who would have me?)
Favorite fantasy sport to play: Football
Favorite sport to watch: MMA
Favorite team (any sport): None
All-time favorite athlete: None
Years playing fantasy: 23
I got my start in the fantasy industry when: I got tired of turning on the television Sunday mornings only to find players listed as probable in the paper on Thursday and Friday weren’t able to play.

Since then, my fantasy résumé includes: I started the TFL Report, in 1993, serving as editor and webmaster. I joined Fantasy Sports Publications, Inc. in 1997. My work has been prominently displayed in all four FSP Fantasy annuals — Fantasy Football Pro Forecast, Fantasy Football Diehards, Fantasy Football Cheatsheets and the Fantasy Football DraftBook — since.

I wrote a weekly column for from 2001-07; also ran weekly content I created in 2007.

In 2005, I was named the first-ever Fantasy Football Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

Three questions

1) If you’ve been making your living in fantasy sports since 1993, what did you do before that? How did you go about generating sustainable income from the TFL Report right from the start?

I was a graphic designer working on retainer for a single customer - leaving plenty of free time while more than covering expenses. I used the free time (and money earned) to create, publish and market the TFL Report. The publication itself came very close to breaking even (thanks to considerable sweat equity and swapping out of design work, etc.).

Looking back, it’s safe to say sustainable income is different now than it was then. Some would argue it wasn’t sustainable then. But I was so convinced this whole “fantasy thing” would take off at some point, I didn’t pay much attention to the initial income.

2) I’ve been told that you’ve helped some others make their way into and up through the fantasy sports industry. Through your work as an editor and experienced writer, as well as your role in creating the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, do you see yourself as a mentor to younger entrants into the industry? If so, what do you try to impart to those just starting out?

I went to great lengths early on to help others in the field because I believed the better we looked as a group the more viable we became as an industry.

Now that we’ve established that viability, I focus on reminding newcomers who the “experts” are. I have always worked under the assumption my readers are the “experts” and that my job is helping them achieve the desired level of expertise. In other words, I’m not the expert. I’d prefer “professional.”

I know it’s more difficult to get recognized and make a name for yourself these days, but I firmly believe my approach is the reason I’m still doing this - and making a reasonable living at it - 17 years in.

So, bring it strong; be flamboyant; get noticed. … But remember: You’re not going to fool this audience. It’s not about you. It’s about them.

3) How have the expansion of the fantasy sports landscape and the proliferation of available content changed your job? Has increased competition made it any harder to draw in and retain readers?

Being established before the “explosion” has helped. I had a chance to earn the trust of readers well in advance of the boom. That audience is loyal.

Is it harder to bring in new readers? Oh yes. Hey, there are a lot of very talented people in this business now. It’s a battle to prove your ability to deliver the goods and retain the credibility necessary to stand out. That fight is something I love getting up and doing every single day.

Bonus: What did/does TFL stand for? Also — related or not — your e-mail handle is “unstable.” Should we be worried?

TFL is “The Fantasy League” — as in The Fantasy League Report. The “unstable” thing was a better fit back in the ’90s. I settled down a bit since.