Posts Tagged ‘nflpa’

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.”


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, 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 and (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.


Pro-Fantasy Rulings Hurt NFLPA’s Bottom Line

Monday, June 8th, 2009

We all know that court decisions in favor of fantasy game providers tired of paying licensing fees for player statistics and information are good for those who put on the games. The flipside, though, is that NFL Players Inc. is out at least $3.5 million so far, according to a recent report.

Sports Business Journal reported Monday that the NFL Players Association’s annual report for the fiscal year ending Feb. 28 found revenues from fantasy licensing fees down to $1.2 million from $4.7 million in the previous year. That number figures to tumble even further going forward — particularly once the Yahoo! lawsuit is resolved.

According to SBJ, Yahoo! accounted for more than half of last year’s total, shelling out $841,329 in licensing fees to the NFLPA. CBS Sports, on the other hand, dropped from $1.49 million in the previous fiscal year to just $55,000 for “player appearances” last year. CBS reportedly stopped paying licensing fees before filing suit last fall against the players association.

Among the other big names: Fox Sports’ payout dipped just to $276,218 from $363,876, with most of the remaining money reportedly going to cover LaDainian Tomlinson’s role as spokesperson for Fox’s fantasy football. Sporting News, which said it did pay for a license last year, nevertheless dropped from $73,805 in fee spending to $50,000. Sporting News Online vice president and general manager Jeff Gerttula said he didn’t know what the company would do “going forward,” in light of the series of court rulings that deem such licenses unnecessary.

According to SBJ, the exact size of the revenue drop for NFL Players — the merchandising wing of the NFLPA — is unknown because some companies pay similar fees as part of larger licensing deals that also cover other areas.


Business Profile: Fantasy Sports Ventures

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Company: Fantasy Sports Ventures Inc.
Launch date: 2006

Since debuting less than three years ago, Fantasy Sports Ventures and its Fantasy Players Network have experienced tremendous growth, now ranking near the likes of and Yahoo! in terms of monthly unique Web visitors. FSV executive vice president and general manager Clay Walker took some time to tell about how the company has gotten off to such a quick start.

1. With many companies in the fantasy industry, it’s obvious what they offer, be it content, league management services, a specific product, etc. Can you please describe just what services Fantasy Sports Ventures provides?
FSV provides marketing and promotional resources to its partners in exchange for a revenue share on the ad dollars we generate for them. Essentially, the sites are getting a dedicated and experienced online sales staff to represent them for free. We also promote our sites through the Fantasy Players Network at and we frequently provide partner content to USA Today through the strategic relationship we have with Gannett. Finally, we provide our partners with a free photo license from ICON Sports Media.

2. What was the impetus for the company’s creation and what went into the launch (i.e. capital, tech development, self-promotion, etc.)?
Chris Russo spent 6 years at the NFL and he quickly observed that, while there were half a dozen big media companies involved in fantasy, there were also hundreds of smaller sites involved in fantasy. Collectively, he believed that the audience of these smaller sites could equal or surpass the audiences of major media companies if we all worked together. Having been involved with fantasy football since I started at the NFL Players Association in 1993, it was easy for me to grasp and endorse the concept. In terms of capital, we are privately funded by friends and family and USA Today/Gannett.

3. Four members of the executive board have prior experience working for or with the NFL. What part has that experience played in building a company in an industry led by football?
We have great executive experience across the board, led by Chris Russo — who ran the NFL New Media business for more than six years. Evan Kramer was also at the NFL for a long time, and I spent 13 years at the NFL Players Association, so it’s hard to run away from our football backgrounds. However, we also have executive staffers from Yahoo! Sports, ABC and CBS Sports — so we have a well-rounded group leading the company. I believe that type of management experience is unique in this industry.

4. You helped found the Fantasy Sports Association in the same year in which FSV launched. What role has that tie played in your company’s development and integration into the industry?
I founded the Fantasy Sports Association as a way to provide the larger media companies with a platform to promote fantasy sports to brand marketers. It’s a nice complement to the FSTA, which does a great job of representing the independent fantasy sports voices in the industry. FSV obviously works with both associations and many of our partners are members of the FSTA.

5. What kind of connections within the fantasy industry did FSV carry into its launch? How has the company gone about building further relationships?
Collectively, our management staff was fortunate enough to be able to develop a number of great business partnerships while we worked for the NFL, NFLPA, Yahoo!, CBS, ABC, etc., that gave us a head start when we first launched FSV. It’s an extremely competitive marketplace and advertising dollars have become more scarce in the current economy, so every edge we have is a plus for us.

6. What is the Fantasy Players Network? What does it mean for a site to be a part of it, and how have you gone about building it?
The Fantasy Players Network is a collection of the best independent fantasy sports games, tools, content and community around the web. We are working on delivering the best and most comprehensive fantasy experience for fans. At the same time, we’re packaging that very attractive audience for brand marketers and building custom marketing opportunities that few, if any, can match.

7. What were some of the first sites you targeted as potential business partners, and were there any particular deals that served as benchmarks for FSV’s early progress?
There are so many great sites in the network that it’s difficult to call out one particular content site, game site, etc. To us, they are all valuable because each site provides something unique and different and that’s what makes the network so special — that you can’t find all of the things we have in the network anywhere else.

The two easiest benchmarks are scale and revenue. When we started at the end of 2006, we didn’t have an audience. By the end of 2007, our audience was approximately 5 million unique visitors per month (according to Nielsen and comScore). By the end of 2008, our audience had grown to 11.5 million unique visitors per month. It’s possible that our audience may reach 15 million unique visitors per month by the end of 2009. Currently, the Network is the fifth-largest online sports property in the U.S., exceeding the size of,, NASCAR, AOL and many others with larger brand name recognition. The second measure is revenue. We doubled our revenue from 2007 to 2008 and we may have a similar gain in 2009.

Last, FSV was named one of the five best Digital Sports Media companies in 2009 by the Sports Business Journal. Though ESPN ultimately won the award in NYC last week, it was an honor to be considered in the same company as ESPN and Yahoo! Sports.

8. You have experienced tremendous growth in online traffic over the past year. How has FSV gone about making that happen, and how important is that to the company’s success?
Like many other sites in the industry, we’ve focused on SEO (search engine optimization). We’ve also worked with USA Today to increase our distribution and the distribution of the content around the network. Moving forward, we will focus more on linking and integrating the sites in the network so the traffic travels back and forth between the partners more easily. Additionally, we continue to add new sites to the network, and that also increases network traffic.

9. What kind of backgrounds and involvement do you guys have as fantasy players?
A number of our staff members have been longtime fantasy players, myself included. My claim to fame is that I was one of the founding members of the TFL (Tidewater Football League) in 1988. I played in that league for seven seasons, until I was asked to leave by the other owners in the league because I won the league three years in a row. There was a belief that my job at the NFLPA provided me with an unfair advantage!

10. What should we expect to see from Fantasy Sports Ventures going forward?
More growth in the size of our audience and in revenue in 2009 and 2010. You may also see a redesign of in 2010.