The Fantasy Football Industry
Fantasy Football Companies
The fantasy football industry is growing every year. It's now impossible to list all the fantasy football companies that exist to serve the information needs of fantasy football players. Even the big sports companies - ESPN, CBS, Sporting News, Sports Illustrated - offer their own fantasy football coverage. In recent years, everyone from the Sunday Morning NFL Pregame Shows to the NFL itself has realized what an integral role the fantasy football industry plays in the overall success of the NFL.
I'm not saying that the NFL would be weak without the rabid attention of its fantasy football fans. But with an estimated 27,000,000 people playing fantasy football worldwide (and the vast majority of those ff players being Americans), it's hard to deny that the billion dollar fantasy football industry contributes a lot to the yearly buzz in August and September about pro football. In many ways, fantasy football is like sports gambling: it personalizes the game and gives fans an extra reason to get excited about NFL football.
Fantasy Football and the NFL
Take me, for example. I would be a big fan of the NFL anyway. I'm a Dallas Cowboys fan and I've been a big Dallas Cowboys fan since I was 6 years old and pulling for Roger Staubach to win one last title. I would continue to live and die with the success of the Dallas Cowboys every Sunday in the fall, even without the fantasy football industry.
But I have a special place for my fantasy football leagues. I'm in several of them and my friends and I spend more time talking about our fantasy football teams than we do the "NFL proper". Sure, we talk about how the Dallas Cowboys beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, but I also laugh how Sabby Piscitelli not only got me good free agent points in my IDP league, but also blew the coverages that let Roy Williams and Patrick Crayton go for long touchdowns. Every pro football conversation fits in a liberal amount of fantasy football talk.
Fantasy football is a part of the NFL game, like it or not.
So what is "the fantasy football industry" I'm talking about?
Fantasy Football Magazines
The fantasy football season starts with the publication of fantasy football magazines in early June every year. About six weeks after the NFL Draft, the fantasy football magazines start to hit the news stands. All big sports companies now puts out their own fantasy magazine: Sporting News, Fanball, Fantasy Guru, Atlas. You name it.
The fantasy football mags are a good sneak preview of the upcoming fantasy football season, and they are (to me) an indication that football season is "just around the corner", though there's actually a long, hot summer still to go. Still, you get to see what the "fantasy football experts" think about the upcoming fantasy season, and what NFL free agency and the NFL draft have done to the fantasy football projections.
But in many ways, fantasy football magazines are becoming obsolete. By the time most fantasy football drafts happen, the fantasy magazine information is out-of-date. Increasingly, the industry is now dominated by fantasy football websites.
Fantasy Football Websites
Fantasy football websites update their fantasy football news all summer, so their information is always better than what you'll find in a fantasy football magazine. Some fantasy football blogs update daily about their local NFL team training camps, so you know who's doing better in camp practices and preseason games, who had what injury and who is likely to move up or down the depth chart. Static fantasy football sites post articles and web updates on teams, so you'll find fantasy football news and analysis throughout the NFL preseason, as you prepare for fantasy football drafts.
There's a fantasy football cottage industry on the Internet for printable fantasy football cheat sheets and predictions, because people about to go draft in their local league are always looking for other peoples' suggestions on which players to draft in which round. A fantasy football cheat sheet is great, because you can mark off the players as they are drafted and track which players left have the highest value.
Throughout the season, fantasy football companies put out fantasy football breaking news and injury updates. Because teams put out weekly injury reports on Wednesday and inactive lists right before kickoff time, the fantasy football industry online provides new fantasy football news throughout the week during the NFL season - and during the NFL offseason, too.
If you're looking for some of the most established and respected fantasy football companies in the fantasy football industry, here's a list of some of the best blogs and websites covering fantasy football throughout the year:
- Yahoo! Fantasy
Companies Where You Can Play Fantasy Football
My Fantasy League
MyFantasyLeague has been a favorite of mine and most of the league's I've been in for the better part of a decade now. My Fantasy League offers just about everything you want in a fantasy football league hosting website. Some people in my local leagues have complained that MFL offers "too much" - that's My Fantasy League is confusing to navigate. I've never noticed that, but I personally enjoy having all kinds of ways I can customize my league page and one-stop fantasy football resources to let me analyse rosters and free agents in my league using my league scoring system.
Even better, My Fantasy League offers great technical support. You get replies to emails within a couple of hours and "My Fantasy League" listens to customer feedback when designing the site for next year. If you have a good suggestion, there's a real chance it will appear on My Fantasy League next year.
My Fantasy League doesn't have all the pictures that CBSSPortsline and Fanball has, which meant in years past that the load times on the pages were better. I guess due to more traffic in 2009, the load times on MFL sites have been slow, but when I asked MyFantasyLeague about the slow load times, their tech people replied immediately and convinced me they were trying to get to the bottom of the problem. In fact, they asked me for additional information on which parts of their site (league pages, MFL message boards, MFL registration pages) were having trouble, saying this would help them get to the bottom of the problem.
Obviously, MFL is my favorite fantasy football league management resource. On top of their attention to detail, My Fantasy League costs about half of what CBSSportsline does - $90 if you buy in August and $70 if you buy in June.
CBSSportsline is a big, corporate fantasy football league management website that handles fantasy football, fantasy baseball, fantasy Nascar and pretty much any kind of fantasy sports league you want to play in. When I say "corporate", I imply all that's good and bad associated with that word.
CBS Sportsline Fantasy is a slick looking site and it has a lot of fantasy football owner tools you can use. CBSSportsline has analysis from fantasy football experts and former NFL stars. CBSSportsline includes lots of fantasy football news features and analysis and is integrated with the official NFL league site, so you can get some of the best real time game stats in the ff business. I've also noticed that, in 2009 at least, the load times on CBSSportsline Fantasy Football are a lot faster than on its competitors league management websites.
But the customer service over at CBS Sportsline is atrocious. Actually, it's non-existent. If you do have a problem, good luck getting any response from CBS tech support. I'm still waiting for a reply to an email I sent in 2002. Also, the day the season is over with, CBS Sportsline ditches you site and you can't get access to your league history or last year's stats. With sites like "My Fantasy League", I can still look at the stats, the message board topics and rants and the league history of my local fantasy league dating all the way back to the year 2000 - our first year using MFL.
While I don't hate CBS Sportsline as much as I did five years ago, I don't think their site is worth the $170 it costs to host a league on that site.
It's been a couple of years since I used Fanball, so I won't be as detailed as I was with the previous two fantasy football companies. Fanball.com is another of the big fantasy football league management websites and it has a mixed reputation. A lot of fantasy football leagues use it and some complain, mainly about load times. I never had those problems when I was on Fanball, which has been hosting fantasy football games since at least the late 90's - I remember playing fantasy football on Fanball back when I was on dial-up.
Fanball costs the same or a little less than My Fantasy League, depending on when you purchase your league commissioner package. For an additional $30, you can buy your own personal "Football Owner's Edge" package, which gives you privileged fantasy football information about the NFL. This is roughly the same amount you would pay for a subscription to fantasy football news and updates site like "Draft Sharks" and "The Huddle", with roughly the same type of ff information available.
Fanball tries to make the fantasy football more fun and challenging for their customers by offering special fantasy football games and contests on the side from their usual ff league hosting business. The "$10,000 Grand Prize" game lets you draft a 22-man roster and collect points throughout the year, with the winner eventually collecting a $10,000 grand prize. Fanball also has "Draft and Play" format leagues where you enter a 10-team league. The winners eventually play for a $6,000 grand prize.
Like I said, I hear of a lot of people disenchanted with Fanball fantasy football league hosting who come over to "My Fantasy League", but since my league's stopped using Fanball a couple of years ago (for similar reasons), I can't say what it's like in 2009. In many ways, I think of Fanball as similar to CBSSportsline - Fanball makes money off of more than just hosting fantasy football leagues, so their attention to detail might not be the same as MyFantasyLeague's. But at least it doesn't cost twice as much.
RotoHog offers an interesting package of fantasy football games. "Roto Hog Fantasy Football" offers your standard "Draft & Trade" leagues and an interesting and innovative "Salary Cap Fantasy Football Format". There are also leagues where 10 or more of your friends can sign up (and pay) for the right to compete for a $125 prize.
Rotohog Fantasy Sports also offers one of my favorites: their "Football Stock Exchange". If you've ever played the "Hollywood Stock Exchange" or "Congressional Stock Market" games, you'll realize there are fantasy games online that let you buy, sell and trade stocks in real life figure in a particular sports, profession or other arena. In Rotohog's fantasy football stock exchange, you buy and sell stocks in NFL football players like they're companies on Wall Street. As their fortunes rise and fall, your fantasy football stock portfolio grows or shrinks. It's just another cool way to play fantasy football.
Rotohog partners with the Sporting News, so throughout the fantasy football season, people playing fantasy football on Rotohog Fantasy will get updates from the Sporting News Online.
Fantasy Sports Live
FantasySportsLive is a different kind of fantasy football site altogether. Instead of hosting fantasy football leagues like the other fantasy sports sites on this list, Fantasy Sports Live hosts weekly fantasy football contests. You don't draft a player for a season at a time; you draft a fantasy football player for a week at a time only. When the weekly fantasy contest is over, everything resets.
You might be wondering how such a fantasy football game works, since you would have to redraft every week. Actually, you don't redraft at all. There is no bench in a Fantasy Sports Live contest. You draft a starting lineup of 1 quarterback, 2 running backs, 3 receivers, 1 tight end, 1 kicker and 1 defense. You can choose the contest you want to play in: either an anything goes fantasy football contest or a salary cap fantasy football contest. You get to choose your dream lineup for the week, based on who are the best players and who has the best lineup.
It should be mentioned that FantasySportsLive contests can pit two similar lineups against one another. For instance, you and your opponent might draft Tom Brady and Randy Moss. If so, those positions tie and the outcome of the contest comes down to which players are better at the other fantasy football positions. This is quite likely in fantasy contests with no salary cap. Salary cap leagues often come down to who drafts the really cheap player who's getting the surprise start or the easy match-up (Detroit Lions) that week.
The great thing is, if your roster sucks one week, you can draft a whole other roster next week. You aren't stuck with the same broken-down, ineffective players all year - players that you come to hate. FantasySportsLive is a different challenge every week - and a fresh fantasy football start.
Most FantasySportsLive contests involve heads-up contests, 6-man contests and 10-man contests. You can also choose what the buy-in fees for each contests, which determine how much you win if you win (or place) in your fantasy football contests. FantasySportsLive take a small cut of the action: around 2%. Because of an exception in the Federal UIGEA law passed a couple of years ago, fantasy football contests are considered a game of skill and not a game of chance, so FantasySportsLive is perfectly legal. So you get to play weekly fantasy football games and wager an amount you feel comfortable with, which is great if you've had major injuries in your local fantasy football league and you're already out of contention.
More Fantasy Football Companies
I'm sure there are more great fantasy football companies out there, but these are some of the most prominent and/or some of my favorite fantasy football companies. Try them out, or try out some of your own and send me a heads-up on any great fantasy football company you find on the Internet.