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SBJ/November 10 - 16, 2003/Forty Under 40
Published November 10, 2003
Late one night in November 1996, Peter Pezaris and a handful of his college friends were sitting around a table trying to decide if the Internet company they founded would ever make enough money to allow them to quit their day jobs.
Someone suggested offering to manage people's fantasy sports leagues online, and that's when Daedalus Worldwide Corp. (DWWC) — which until then had capitalized about $5,000 as an online restaurant guide — took on a new mission: to provide a place online where fantasy baseball players could pay to get their scores and statistics tabulated for them.
In an instance of youthful bravado, Pezaris and DWWC's other co-founders took out an ad promoting the new company that was to run on the back page of the Jan. 15 issue of a fantasy sports publication. That left a month and a half to figure out how a five-person company lacking the infrastructure to tabulate and update statistics daily, not to mention a merchant account that would allow it to accept credit cards, was going to follow through on its promises.
"We were young and brash and foolish enough to think we could do it anyway," said Pezaris, who now oversees all content and fantasy sports for SportsLine.com, the publisher of cbssportsline.com, nfl.com, pgatour.com and ncaasports.com. "I slept about an hour a night in December of that year."
Amazingly, the site, Commissioner.com, launched on Jan. 1, and while the launch did not immediately usher in the "bazillion" customers Pezaris naively anticipated, it did get about 300 people to plop down $300 apiece before the start of the baseball season.
"To us, that was real success and real money, and something we could build on," said Pezaris, whose current employer last year generated $11 million from fantasy revenue and in 2003 expects to bring in about $15 million.
The moderate success meant Pezaris could start sleeping up to three hours a night, but Commissioner.com's journey to financial success, and fantasy sports' trek to commercial and popular acceptance, were only beginning.
Pezaris spent the next year and a half operating the Internet business at nights while plugging away as a systems and software developer at Bankers Trust during the day. It wasn't until Pezaris found himself napping regularly in the bathroom stall during lunch, using a toilet paper dispenser as a headrest, that he decided to enter the fantasy business full time.
That decision paid off in 1998, when Commissioner.com struck a deal with SportsLine to be the site's exclusive developer of fantasy games, bringing Commissoner.com's full-time staff from one to five people. A year and a half later, SportsLine made Commissioner.com an offer it couldn't refuse, purchasing the company for $31 million in cash and stock.
Shortly after the acquisition, Pezaris was named senior vice president of product development for SportsLine's newly acquired subsidiary, which was producing fantasy games for cbssportsline.com, nfl.com, aol.com and cnnsi.com.
In June 2001 Pezaris was named president of product development, putting him in charge of programming, production and fantasy products for all of SportsLine's sites. And in April 2002, Pezaris added chief technology officer to his ever-growing list of responsibilities.
In his current role as president of operations and product development for SportsLine, Pezaris oversees a major chunk of the sports content and sports-related subscription products consumed online.
That includes the league and team sites for the NFL, which prior to the 2003 season helped legitimize fantasy sports by offering a paid game on nfl.com.
"Obviously Peter's roots are with our fantasy sports business, and it's difficult to underestimate the positive impact that business has had for SportsLine.com," said Michael Levy, CEO of SportsLine, which in 2002 generated revenue totaling $62.1 million and lost $48.2 million, according to financial filings.
"Under Peter's direction, SportsLine.com has assumed a leadership role in the fantasy sports field and our fantasy sports products are considered the best on the Internet."