SBJ/May 8 - 14, 2006/This Weeks News

New group aims to be voice of fantasy sports

The Fantasy Sports Association (FSA), a new trade group started by Players Inc., has begun its operations with hopes of taking better advantage of the industry’s runaway growth in popularity.

A goal of the NFL Players Association’s licensing and marketing arm for nearly a decade, the FSA held its first meeting in New York on the eve of the April 29-30 NFL draft. It is quickly looking to become the fantasy industry’s leading voice.

The group, while not specifically designed to drive the seven-year-old Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) out of business, has started operations with an annual budget 10 times as large and participation by all of the major national fantasy sports licensees, including Yahoo!, ProTrade and CBS SportsLine.

“As we look to the future, we need to professionalize the industry and give it a solid, clear voice, one that truly advocates and promotes fantasy sports,” said Clay Walker, FSA chairman and Players Inc. senior vice president. “We have no opposition to the FSTA, but it really started as an organization for players, and then the mom-and-pops. There hasn’t been a voice representing the bigger operators.”

The FSA, which Walker will oversee while continuing his job with Players Inc., will have an annual budget exceeding $250,000, with significant chunks of the money going to fund industry research and lobbying on trade and intellectual property issues. The Las Vegas-based FSTA, conversely, operates on $25,000 to $30,000 per year.

Walker said the new group will also endeavor to help advertisers make better and more strategic buys in fantasy sports.

“Advertisers have not yet really figured how to maximize their investment in fantasy,” Walker said. “You see some things happening, but once we have significantly better, richer data to bring to market and tell Corporate America about what is completely happening, you’ll see things take off.”

The FSA was originally designed as an exclusive group of fantasy licensees of Players Inc., but other properties, including Major League Baseball, are already active in the new association. Walker said he envisions the FSA helping foster co-branded fantasy games that involve more than one sport.

The new trade group also has made allies out of professional rivals. Among its members is CDM Fantasy Sports, the St. Louis-based operator that is suing MLB Advanced Media, seeking to establish player names and statistics as part of the public domain (see story below). CDM is a licensee of Players Inc., which publicly supports MLBAM in the legal fight. The two sides are of one mind on the FSA’s aims, though.

“This group will do things on a much bigger level and have better access to decision makers,” said CDM executive vice president Charlie Wiegert, a member of FSTA’s Hall of Fame and the organization’s current treasurer.

Most industry estimates point to more than 15 million Americans playing some type of fantasy sports game. That number is expected to reach 30 million by the end of the decade. In addition, more than 30 percent of fantasy football players in 2005 were first-timers.

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