Ryan has some great figures that give us a snapshot of the Fantasy sports industry. There are some quibbles that one could make and Ryan is upfront about the swishiness of the data. You wouldn't want to formally present these specific numbers, but they do show a really interesting health report for the industry, or at least a portion of it.
There's a couple of quick caveats I would make. Some of these numbers, though red, are really tiny downturns given the state of the economy. Secondly although the quality of all of these sites is unquestionable, some of them are fresher than others and some of them have changed in a material way. There's little question that as the big game providers expand their tools and options, it will be very difficult for secondary game providers to stay in business. It isn't necessarily a reflection on the industry as a whole. Finally I would add that some of the losses are counter-balanced by some of the gainers (Ryan provides an abbreviated list) and there are content-based reasons for it. Freshness, different approach, acquisitions and so on. It's fair to say some of them are simply doing a better job.
In light of all the recent closings which you and I are familiar with, the overall portrait is one where the larger problem is how to draw readership and revenue in a fantasy market where the basic commodities, the game software and the numbers, are online and free and in multiple locations.
What do you think are the principle problems and available solutions? Let me throw out a few ideas.
1. The Fantasy audience has aged and evolved and this portion of the industry hasn't changed with it.
When the game first came online, the mere fact that you could get stats on a daily basis, and not wait for the Sunday paper (or The National, or the Baseball Weekly, or the right day's edition of the USA Today or...). The game became accessible to a vast audience who had never really played it before. That audience has now played for 20 years or more but the analysis part of the industry is still producing more or less the same columns - albeit with xFIP instead of BA. A large portion of our subscribing audience can go out and fish themselves, they no longer need the same old fish.
2. The proliferation of unpaid writing brings down the overall quality.
Chicken meet egg. I am not a great writer by any means, but I could certainly do better if I could carve more time out of my busy schedule to do so. The editorial process doesn't generate revenue so it is neglected, or slow. Without funds, it is hard to fill a site with consistently good content. Without consistently good content it is hard to get funds. This is not about bad writing and analysis because throwing money at this will not fix it.
3. We don't embrace the different aspects and levels of the game fully as entertainment.
We all know colleagues whose Fantasy work we despise for being overly simplistic, rudimentary and obvious. But these colleagues appeal to, and have a niche for the younger and/or less experienced audience. There's no shame in providing information to entry-level players and every reason as an industry to do so. Likewise I read brilliant advanced analysis that comes off as a recitation of numbers or a stale five-players-of-the-week list with no hook to bring the experienced player into the content - no practical way to use this for the 6th player.
4. The industry is fragmented, the pieces for a compelling, really compelling Fantasy source are sitting here, but they haven't been put together.
Face it, we all want our brand and while there are exceptions to the rule, most of us haven't found the right way to create synergistic combinations that are mutually beneficial (it is state law to use the term "Synergy" in this type of column). There are exciting combinations of media, original reporting and analysis that are being done right now - by people who are reading this. How do we get them, scratch that, us together?
True life story, I was asked to write for a site and asked what the plan was - nothing detailed, just what might constitute an executive summary of a business plan. It was obvious that the person I was speaking with (a respected industry veteran and one of the best minds I know) wasn't exactly sure what a business plan was and the best he could manage was "put together a really good draft kit and then in a couple of years add a premium side." Well...OK. I asked another well known person what it was he thought the good player would like to see and the best he could come up with seemed to be "whatever seems relevant." That may have been the product of our interaction, but the point remains the same - many people in this industry just want to re-package what is being done, do it "better," and sell it. That's not a business model.
5. We need to bring creative solutions to the problems of revenue.
This means figuring out how to drive traffic, enhance stickiness. Unique approaches to advertising. "micro-subscriptions." Multi-site subscriptions, cross licensing, something.
The problem is not that the industry is shrinking. Despite yearly ups and downs, millions of people play fantasy sports religiously...actually more often than they practice religion. And the problem is not content because as you all know there are fine writers out there producing excellent work. The problem is how do we put them together? How do we provide enough value-added to get our readers to generate enough income so that we can generate content for them to enjoy this game we all love?
What do you think?