Friday, March 4, 2011

What's Your Take on the State of the Industry? » Blog Archive » Fantasy Sports is Played Out!

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?


Joe said...

The big sites will make the money, period. No mom and pop fantasy site can take on ESPN, CBS or YaHoo. Just like small hardware stores could not take on Home Depot and Lowes. You can't compete. Play the game and enjoy. If you are looking to make money off it, good luck!

SteveP said...

Yeah Joe - that is true, but I think part of the deal isn't to take on something like ESPN but to devise a product that, as a whole, will draw players. ESPN's fantasy product, other than the game is really a joke. Are they still using rotowire incipits in lieu of actual fantasy info?

I think there is a niche for a site that isn't just a collection of writing and I think you could drive it through creative revenue streams and keep it free (pretty important I think).

I'd ask - what do you read? listen to? look at? What causes you to click over for information? And how do we get that, or those together for people?

Matt Vandenbrand said...

Steve you know as well as I do that ESPN is lazy, so of course they still use the Rotowire snipits when it comes to their player info. They have a handful of good writers, but the fact that some of their stuff is still "Insider" only is hilarious. If I want to read what Jason Grey and Eric Karabell have to say I have to pay money? Yeah right. They're both good writers- Grey the better one- but if I really want to know the break down on the prospect he's highlighting, I'll use my handy Baseball America handbook, and the website to get an accurate look at the player. It may not be entirely up to date, but it gives me a close enough snap shot, that I can either profile the player myself, and decide to roster them or give others advice whether to roster them or not.

BTW if you want a great free know where to look....

I read everything, by everyone, for example I read this blog, and Ryan's blog, and yesterday I read the Mastersball blog, and the Baseball HQ newsletter- not the subscription stuff, and then before bed I read some Baseball Prospectus.
So far today, you're my first source.
If the podcast is compelling enough- because let's face it I'm too cheap for satelite radio- I'll listen to it, but there are a couple cavaets, it can't be more then an hour- that's too much for me to invest in a podcast- so I really only listen to the Baseball HQ podcast and the ESPN Fantasy Focus ones...though much less then I used to.