4/3/2012 5:56 PM ET|
The real money of fantasy sports
Get insured when you play
Insurance providers are in the game, too. The biggest participation sites, such as Yahoo's, are free, but a few leagues have buy-ins of as much as $10,000. For those leagues and for the smaller players, too, a few insurers offer players a chance to cut potential losses.
The insurance works like this, said Henry Olszewski of Fantasy Sports Insurance. Say an owner in a $200 buy-in league selects Dustin Pedroia, the star second baseman of the Boston Red Sox. If Pedroia gets hurt and misses 60 games, the owner gets his entry fee back.
The underwriter? Lloyds of London.
Some players are uninsurable because of their injury histories. That group includes superstar quarterback Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos and baseball stars Carl Crawford of the Red Sox and Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Policies don't cover players who get suspended, either. "No," Olszewski said, "we don't insure against stupidity."
Now, on to arbitration. Website lawyers can decide disputes that arise in fantasy leagues. Decisions go for $15 a shot, or, if a league is particularly troubled, $100 can cover its season. Such sites include FantasyDispute.com, SportsJudge.com and Fantasy Judgment.
Fantasy sports haven't been without legal challenges. Major League Baseball contended it had ownership of statistics and images, and it wanted not just a piece but all of the action. It lost.
Congress in 2006 passed a bill that stopped online sports betting in America, but fantasy sports were not included.
Just in case, the Fantasy Sports Trade Association has a lobbyist to keep an eye on such things. Several states don't allow online fantasy play, and a few others have ambiguous wording. The fantasy sports association's lobbyist was in Maryland in mid-March to help push legislation to legalize fantasy sports through the House of Delegates' Ways and Means Committee.
In most cases, people can set up their own leagues and play for free. Some fee-based sites offer more services, such as sports news, draft strategies and scouting reports on players. But some free ones offer much of that, too.
Draft day is typically the most exciting day of the season, when league owners gather in person or online to pick their players.
Capitalizing on that draft excitement is FanDuel, one of several websites that offer players a chance to pick teams and play for daily prizes. Its "seasons" each last a day or a week. You can pick a team in the morning, pay a fee and, if your team wins, get paid that night. According to FanDuel CEO Nigel Eccles, the site has grown from 1,000 players and $1.5 million in payouts in 2010 to 100,000 players and more than $10 million in payouts. It takes a commission on the payouts.
"Players decide each day whether to play or not. Our challenge is to make it exciting enough to play every day," Eccles said. Baseball and basketball are the daily drivers, he said. Football is big, too, but games happen only once a week.
According to FanDuel's website, its games aren't offered in Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana or Vermont, where fantasy sports are barred or the legal language against gaming is too vague to risk offering play there.
One of the newer fantasy sites is Fleaflicker, a baseball site that's growing in popularity and touts testimonials from The Wall Street Journal and CBS Radio on its homepage. One of its selling points is that players or "commissioners" can easily and quickly customize their leagues. Players on Fleaflicker, as on most other fantasy sites, can link to Facebook and Twitter and post their sports "pages" out into the world.
Not all fantasy league sites make it, even ones with interesting angles. In 2009, RapidDraft boasted that its $250,000 first-place money would make players think about fantasy football more than sex -- like that was a good thing.
As popular as fantasy football is, it evidently isn't that popular. RapidDraft is out of business.
A common criticism of fantasy leagues is that they distort what it means to be a fan -- that participants care more about their fantasy teams than the ones they grew up following. But analysts say most fantasy devotees find that their interest spikes, having a rooting interest in practically every pitch and every play of every game. You can bet players want to know what's happening right away, too.
Enter smartphones and social-networking sites that are connecting players with advertisers, wireless carriers and software companies. 4Info, a mobile advertising company, sends users free texts of sports updates with tiny ads at the bottom. Fifteen percent of its half-billion texts reportedly will be directed to users seeking sports results.
Outsiders often wonder: Why do players get so wrapped up in their fantasy leagues? The answer is that they're fun and competitive; players cite camaraderie, trash talk, love of sports and a host of other reasons.
For Walter Harrison, the president of Hartford University in Connecticut and a member of the same fantasy baseball league since 1986, it's "that it allows me to become completely involved with a 'reality' that is different than what I experience every day."
"Fantasy baseball provides me with the illusion that decisions I make can have real consequences," Harrison joked. "Of course, at some level I know that isn't true. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the Romantic poet, called it 'a willing suspension of disbelief.' For him, poetry; for me, fantasy baseball."
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