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Why You Should Read My Blog

A classmate of mine said something yesterday that caught my attention. She said she doesn’t read my blog because, if it’s about sports, she’s not interested.

Fair point. I feel this is a common sentiment among my colleagues. Well, I have a beef to pick.

The problem is that this blog is not about sports. If you want sports, go to Deadspin or ESPN. In fact, this blog is not even really about fantasy sports. If you want fantasy sports, go to Rotoworld or The Talented Mr. Roto. This blog is about business and media, and, in my opinion, fantasy sports plays a major role in the development of the two.

Let’s start with business. According to a study by the FSTA, 27.1 million Americans play fantasy sports, an industry that is estimated at $4.48 billion, which exceeds the expected 2010 revenues of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and MySpace combined.

And it’s not who you think is playing. Nearly 3 million players are women. 71 percent of fantasy players have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Furthermore, the average household income of a fantasy sports player is $94,000. In other words, it’s not just deadbeats all caught up in this movement. Many businesses have even acknowledged the positive effect fantasy sports has had on their companies.

In addition, the influence of fantasy sports on media is immense. Besides the noticeable adjustments that various sports companies have made for fantasy, advertising and even newspapers have catered to its evolution. ESPN viewers and ESPN Radio listeners will often hear the various ESPN personalities discuss their fantasy teams.

In fact, as a prime example of the overwhelming influence that fantasy sports has had on media, not only has satellite radio created a 24-hour fantasy sports radio station, but the FX Network has a show in its second season, “The League.” Its premise? Five guys and their sometimes unhealthy obsession with fantasy sports.

I don’t write about recent scores or trades. I avoid statistics and rankings.

The purpose of this blog is to gain a better understanding of the history of this evolving business, its motivations and its effects on society. So don’t worry. Take a deep breath. Even if you don’t know who Brett Favre is, my blog is for you.

Where Loyalty Lies

My wife and I have been busy these past two months and it’s been hard to find time to spend together. Sundays are the exception, however.

Every Sunday, we watch football at a bar in Gilbert. While I am primarily following my hometown team’s game, I constantly glance around at the other TVs in the bar to check my fantasy players. So inevitably, I find myself exerting certain emotions that are usually reserved strictly for my team, the Chicago Bears. So the query: Who gets the love? My lifelong favorite team or my fantasy team?

According to a study by two journalism professors, Lee K. Farquhar and Robert Meeds, many fantasy sports players use fantasy sports to further engage in real sports.

“Fantasy sports have made my interest in real-world sports grow,” one subset of fantasy players said.

Does this create a monster? As ESPN radio announcer Colin Cowherd said in a previous post, “fantasy guy” focuses too much on the individual player and loses sight of the sport in general.

In fact, a lot of “fantasy guys” refuse to limit their fan support to just one real team. Fantasy Guy X likes the New York Giants because he has Eli Manning, but he also likes the Philadelphia Eagles because he has Desean Jackson; furthermore, he loves the St. Louis Rams because he has Steven Jackson. But this guy can be pretty frustrating to sit next to at a bar because you can’t seem to understand his motivations.  If he’s wearing a New York Giants jersey, you can talk all the smack you want when your team is beating the Giants. But if he just cheers for Manning because Manning’s on his fantasy team, then you might cheer against him when Eli Manning throws an interception, but then he’ll tell you that he’s got the opposing defense and you’re left dumbfounded!

Which brings me back to my wife and me at the bar every Sunday. My wife, a “casual football fan” at best, tries her hardest to devote herself every week to an emotionally draining Chicago Bears team. It’s hard enough to keep up with that roller-coaster.

She just can’t seem to handle the added stress of my despair when Maurice Jones-Drew stops at the goal-line (he apologized to his fantasy owners), thereby losing my fantasy team a much-needed touchdown.

It’s different for each individual, but some fantasy owners cheer for their fantasy team over their real life team and vice versa. For me, Bears first. Fantasy second.

You?

Fantasy Basketball

Adam Ronis and Scott Engel were discussing the upcoming NBA season on their radio show, “RotoExperts,” on Sirius/XM Fantasy Sports Radio on Tuesday when Ronis stumbled upon a realization.

“Fantasy sports and basketball are really made for each other,” he said.

Although fantasy sports can be traced back to baseball and football, basketball’s style of play is ideal for fantasy.

Of the four major North American sports, basketball is the most individualistic. For one, as opposed to football and baseball, there are only five players on the court for each team. Furthermore, in opposition to hockey, which has six players on the ice, basketball players supply the most consistent production, largely due to the high scores of games.

In baseball, football and hockey, scoring is at a premium. Average totals in baseball are 7 to 9 runs per game; in football, 3 to 4 touchdowns per game; in hockey, 4 to 5 goals per game. Professional basketball averages nearly 200 points per game. Thus, a player like Lebron James or Kobe Bryant are going to get more consistent opportunities. In hockey, a great player like Alex Ovechkin can go an entire week without scoring a goal. Likewise, in one baseball game, the St. Louis Cardinals can score nine runs and Albert Pujols could go 0 for 5.

Consistency may be boring, but it is rewarding as well. Fantasy basketball rewards the knowledgeable fantasy manager. In football, you may get lucky with a guy like Kenny Britt, who has two more touchdowns this season than star wide receiver Reggie Wayne. Simply because he’s found the endzone four times, Britt’s value is high even though his real-life value is much lower than Wayne’s.

On the contrary, in fantasy basketball, if you draft the productive players, they are more likely to produce on a consistent basis. In other words, there’s no Kenny Britt in fantasy basketball.

Therefore, fantasy basketball tends to be the best evaluator of a fantasy sports manager. Less luck. More consistency.

As Ronis said, they’re “made for each other.”

Distracted at Work?

Is your boss giving you a hard time about your passion for fantasy football? Does HR question your productivity during football season?

A recent study by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., a consulting firm, produced some favorable results for fantasy football players.

According to the survey, employers don’t attribute major workplace distractions to fantasy football. 100 employers were asked to rate the level of distraction and impact on productivity from fantasy sports. With 1 being no noticeable impact and 10 being an obvious or measurable impact, only 23.2 percent of employers rated a higher level of impact than 5. The average rating was 3.42.

Furthermore, when asked if the company takes steps to discourage fantasy football participation, 46.2 percent of employers responded, “No, we don’t care, as long as the quality of worker output does not decline.”

Even 7.7 percent of employers said that fantasy football participation boosts employee morale. According to John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray, & Christmas, Inc., some employers said that office fantasy football leagues create camaraderie and encourage group cooperation. In another study, Challenger found that one in five fantasy sports players said that they found a business contact through a fantasy sports league.

Some critics might question the credibility of Challenger’s results because of the unreliable responses of those who were questioned. According to the survey, 65.4 percent of the survey-takers play fantasy football themselves. Of those who play, 26.9 percent play with co-workers.

Nonetheless, you have a valid argument when your boss starts hammering you about visiting CBS Fantasy Sports or Rotoworld for 3 to 4 hours (1.2 at work) online per week. Just tell him you’re on a quest to boost employee morale in the office.

Rather, ask him to join your league!

Fantasy Hockey

Fantasy hockey emerged shortly after fantasy basketball but without the luster.

Nonetheless, fantasy hockey has a loyal base and there are very good reasons why new players would be interested in joining a league. Thus, with the opening of the 2010-2011 NHL Hockey season upon us (Oct. 7), let’s take a brief look at fantasy hockey.

I have a particular adoration for fantasy hockey. My immersion into fantasy hockey is recent and reflective of this blog’s purpose.  I drafted my first fantasy hockey team in 2008. I considered myself a Chicago Blackhawks fan but, frankly, had very limited knowledge of the sport. However, because the Blackhawks were at the beginning of a rise to greatness, I started following the sport a bit more than usual.

In 2008, I decided to play fantasy hockey in an effort to learn more about hockey. It worked wonders. By the end of the season, I had a fairly strong base of knowledge about the players and the rules of the game. Although my team finished 6th out of 12 teams, I started to become a fan.

By 2009, with the expectations for the Blackhawks high and my interest in the NHL even higher, I drafted a fantasy hockey team that ended up finishing 2nd overall in my league. By the end of the season, not only had the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, but my knowledge of hockey was at a very high level. I had great familiarity with nearly every team, every player and understood the various nuances of the game. This knowledge was directly related to playing fantasy hockey.

As a result, I truly believe that those who are interested in learning about a sport should start with fantasy sports. Like Mike Beacom said in my previous post, it is a great way to learn about the game.

As for fantasy hockey, I think it’s a lot of fun. Its loyal base is directly related to the NHL’s fan base. There may be less fans than Major League Baseball or the National Basketball Association, but NHL fans have extraordinary knowledge for the sport and its history and they take it very seriously. Therefore, it is much harder to compete in a fantasy hockey league because your opponents are very active and have great knowledge.

Lastly, a little piece of advice: of all the fantasy sports, fantasy hockey is the only sport that I advocate a salary cap auction league. In this type of league, each owner is given a salary cap (i.e. a budget) and as players are announced, the owners bid on each player. The highest bid gets the player. However, each team must stay under the salary cap and remain under throughout the season.

The reason I find this to be the best option for fantasy hockey is because of the limited amount of great players and, like I mentioned earlier, the depth of knowledge among fantasy hockey managers. With the amount of great, high-producing players in the NHL at a premium, owners are forced to employ an effective bidding strategy to have success.

Also, with an auction, a league is less likely to experience an extreme gap in managing skills. If a hockey player is being auctioned, each manager can see the relative value he holds and, by witnessing that, other less-knowledgeable owners are informed.

Hopefully, that gives you a bit more knowledge of this unique fantasy game. Good luck this season!

FSWA

So we just wrapped up our 3rd week of the fantasy football season. How are things going? The despair of Ryan Grant owners is likely overshadowed by the  joy of Arian Foster owners.

So I figured since we’re shifting into first gear in football, shifting into park in baseball, revving up the engine for hockey, and shopping for the right vehicle in basketball, let’s talk to someone who has intimate knowledge of the history of fantasy sports.

I interviewed Mike Beacom nearly two weeks ago in order to get a better gauge on the history and landscape of fantasy sports. There may be no better source for this information because of his deep-rooted connection to fantasy sports, appreciation for the sports world in general and his many connections to the pioneers of the industry. Plus, he’s a journalist as well, and he was very gracious in lending me some of his limited free time.

A little history on Mr. Beacom:

Here’s some info from the interview:

Beacom said he’s always been into the outdoors and, therefore, always been into sports. He got into fantasy sports in 1991. At the time, “there was a buzz” around the fantasy sports world and he started a league in high school with four friends. The league still exists today. As is true with most, he started in fantasy football but evolved into other sports.

According to Beacom, a good fantasy sports manager is “somebody who puts in the work, relies on multiple sources, and stays active.” Beacom said he consults a multitude of sources for his fantasy teams, despite the fact that he has intimate knowledge of the sports world.

In regards to the FSWA, Beacom gave a brief history. It started in 2004 by several fantasy trailblazers such as Scott Engel and Ryan Houston. In 2008, they needed a chairman and Beacom said that he inquired and got the position. More members joined and more partnerships grew. They have an annual awards ceremony where fantasy writers and real players receive awards. All sports are acknowledged in the ceremony. In the most recent awards ceremony, Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans was awarded the Fantasy Player of the Year and Percy Harvin of the Minnesota Vikings won the Fantasy Rookie of the Year.

The FSWA Hall of Fame was introduced this past year, but the idea has been there for some time, according to Beacom. The early plans were not quite right so the FSWA refined them over the past several years and the current system was put into place. There are 20 voters among the roughly 400 members of the FSWA. In the inaugural class, there were 14 finalists (chosen among those with at least 10 years of experience in the field) with five chosen winners: Greg Ambrosius, Matthew Berry, Scott Engel, Eric Karabell and Greg Kellogg. Beacom sees the FSWA growing and expanding its horizons in the future.

I asked him how fantasy sports has affected real sports:

It has affected it “in ways positive and negative,” he said. “It made the Green Bay Packer fan a fan of all the NFL.” While on one hand fans are more knowledgeable about sports, he said, they also care more about numbers nowadays. Fans “are as invested in their [fantasy] teams as their home state teams.”

He did touch on the value of fantasy sports for the novice sports fan, something of which he is well-aware of after writing The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Football. It’s great for people who want to get involved, he said, calling it “a training ground” to understanding the sport and the players. “Football is something to share” and fantasy sports give friends and family something to compete over and discuss. Beacom said that he sees the involvement of amateur players, notably women, growing in the future.

For more information and access to recent articles from Mike Beacom, visit www.mikebeacom.com.

Embracing the Inescapable

Other than the NFL, major sports were very slow to welcome fantasy sports. Commissioner Bud Selig hesitated to align his sport with any method of gambling; thus, it wasn’t until 2004, nearly 25 years after the concept for fantasy baseball was created, that Major League Baseball’s official website offered fantasy baseball. NBA.com and NHL.com shortly followed suit.

The trepidation by the league commissioners seems logical. On one hand, they were worried that their sports would turn into gambling arenas, much like horse racing. The violent 2007 NBA All-Star Game contributed to these fears. Las Vegas does not own a professional sports team for one reason: fear of gambling corruption. The commissioners also worried about potential athlete involvement. Could fantasy sports invite professional athletes into another Black Sox Scandal? These potential pitfalls were nullified by one overriding force: money.

The NFL recognized the potential revenue that fantasy sports would bring to the league. Not only would fans watch complete games (including blowouts) in order to follow his/her fantasy player, they would be willing to watch all of the games instead of just the one. Fans expanded their interest beyond one hometown team. NFL officials could only imagine the advertising opportunities. So, the NFL indirectly partnered up with fantasy sports. On television, NFL games began scrolling updated players statistics across the screen of live games. Even the professionals started playing. Ultimately, the league linked fantasy football to NFL.com.

It is hard to lose sight of the enormous effect fantasy sports has had on their professional counterparts. At their core, fantasy sports give novice fans a chance to learn about the sport. According to Mike Beacom, president and chairman of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, fantasy sports induced more knowledge in the average fan and, more importantly, “made the Green Bay Packer fan a fan of all the NFL.” With Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League all witnessing the positive monetary effect of fantasy sports, they expanded the idea, seeking creative alternatives to classic fantasy leagues. MLB.com introduced Beat the Streak and MLB.com Survivor. Likewise, NBA.com established Stock Exchange and Pick One Challenge, all various alternatives to the traditional fantasy games.

All of this was made possible by a 2006 federal law that exempted fantasy sports from the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, according to Mitchell Stein of Sport Litigation Alert. While Congress made it illegal to use a credit card to bet on sports, fantasy sports was considered “a game of chance,” and therefore legal. This controversial decision is still an ongoing argument.

“The problem is that fantasy sports still may qualify as illegal gambling under state laws and a host of other federal laws, none of which are affected by the 2006 Act,” Stein said.

With states debating the ethics and legalities of fantasy sports, the real/fantasy sport relationship may not be everlasting. Therefore, it’s no surprise to see the commissioners capitalizing on its popularity now.