SBJ/January 15 - 21, 2007/This Weeks News

Flyers are latest player in fantasy sports game

The Philadelphia Flyers have become the latest franchise to use a team-specific fantasy sports program, in their case hoping to stem declining TV ratings and generate interest in an otherwise subpar team.

Alexei Zhitnik and the Flyers are at
the bottom of the NHL standings.

The program follows a similar fantasy game designed by the Minnesota Wild last year. Both offer a different spin on fantasy play by limiting players’ selections to the rosters of games in which their respective teams are playing. They also reward winners with weekly team-related prizes.

The teams hope the programs will help drive traffic to their Web sites, expand their databases and, eventually, offer an additional touch-point for sponsors.

“Fantasy has always been big, but this brings fans closer to their individual team and its broadcast,” said Digger Turnbull, president of Fantasy Sports Services, which works to design fantasy play for teams’ corporate partners. “If their teams are not doing well, it keeps fans coming back to the sites and involved.”

While MLB, NFL and NBA teams offer fantasy play on their Web sites, the games funnel participants through the respective league and allow players to select from any league roster. The Flyers and Wild programs limit selections to their respective teams and opponents. No other NHL team offers a similar team-specific fantasy game.

The Wild collaborated with American Eagle, a Web site design company that also works with the Flyers, to create its fantasy program after the lockout. Participation has grown from 1,200 players in the first season to 2,100 this year.

“It really caught on,” said Glen Andresen, the Wild’s Web content writer. “At least 85 percent of people are changing their lineup each day.”

Taco Bell, a Wild partner, sponsored last year’s program, but its partnership with the team ended and no partners have elected to activate around the game this year. The team hopes to add a new sponsor to the program in the future.

While the Flyers also want to add a sponsor, their immediate goal with the program is to increase the team’s local TV ratings, said Shawn Tilger, Flyers vice president of marketing and communications. Local ratings for this season were down 40 percent last month. The team has tagged the program in broadcasts and had broadcasters give updates on fantasy statistics during the game to try to improve ratings.

The Flyers have the league’s worst on-ice record this season.

After registering to participate for free on the Flyers site, fans can select three forwards and three defensemen from either team playing in a Flyers game.

Total scores are tallied from the two to three games that the Flyers play each week, and weekly winners are awarded team merchandise such as an autographed jersey or stick. So far, more than 800 people have signed up to play.

“Any time you can bring that kind of interaction to the lower level and bring brand loyalty to it like teams have, you’ve got a way to market it more effectively,” Turnbull said. “It’s not necessarily a shift in fantasy but another level in the gaming space.”

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