SBJ/September 1 - 7, 2003/E Sports

Fantasy football season starts with usual glitches

ESPN.com has promoted its League Manager heavily.

Every year in late August, frustration and angst spill onto the message boards of sports Web sites, where technical glitches can derail hundreds of fantasy football drafts and leave paying customers trapped in a fantasy sports participant's worst nightmare.

"[A]fter the first pick," a posting on espn.com said Aug. 25 after a glitch caused a few hundred drafts to malfunction, "all hell broke loose and the java wouldn't work, html kept going to auto, and a few guys ended up with three kickers, 4 QB's and somehow I got Chad Pennington as my last pick and Marshall Faulk twice??"

Such problems, while fairly common and by no means exclusive to espn.com, are increasingly costly at a time when competition among fantasy providers for customers has reached unprecedented heights.

ESPN.com spent the better part of a year developing its new commissioner-style product and has promoted it heavily since the NFL draft in April. League Manager, which for $100 lets up to 20 fantasy players create a customized league, solidified espn.com's position as one of a few top-tier players in the increasingly competitive fee-based fantasy sports industry.

John Kosner, espn.com's senior vice president and general manager, said the problems were caused by a glitch in the system, and that while ESPN had not identified the source of the difficulties as of last Wednesday, it had managed to curb the number of drafts gone awry following the chaos that occurred two days earlier.

"It's something that happens around this time of year," Kosner said, noting that a "few hundred" drafts malfunctioned and those affected will not have to pay the fee. "We're working around the clock to fix it. We hate to inconvenience our players, but these things happen."

Many players complained of being denied access to the java version of the draft, or of html versions that suddenly went on auto-pilot and began picking players for the draft participants. In many cases the automatic drafts malfunctioned, with players ending up on multiple teams and picks being taken out of order.

ESPN.com responded to complaints by giving players another team or league for free, but often the same problems occurred the second and third times, according to several posted messages.

Several competitors claimed they saw a spike in sign-ups around the time League Manager was having problems. Kosner, however, said sales of League Manager were already 60 percent higher than initial forecasts, and one industry expert said he doubts the recent problems will cause espn.com to lose any ground. Information on the exact number of players registered for the game was not available.

"You're always going to have bugs in that first year," said Greg Ambrosius, president of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. "It's not an easy program to write. It's very early in the year. [ESPN] is big enough to work through these problems."

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E-Sports, ESPN, Football, NFL

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