SBJ/February 21-27, 2010/Media

Fanball deal puts Stats LLC back into consumer fantasy

Stats LLC is returning to the consumer-facing fantasy sports business after buying a majority stake in the National Fantasy Championships, a series of high-stakes fantasy games previously owned by Fanball.com.

The Liberty Media-owned Fanball.com, which included the former CDM Fantasy Sports and held an influential position in pay-to-play fantasy games, announced last month it was shutting down all of its fantasy games effective June 30, a move driven by Liberty’s desire to get out of the fantasy sports business.

Greg Ambrosius, who founded the NFC and engineered a sale of those assets from F&W Media to Fanball.com in 2009, quickly moved to buy it back from Liberty. He then struck a second deal in which the Northbrook, Ill.-based Stats will be the lead owner of the NFC and Ambrosius will become a Stats employee to operate the property.

The NFC, running competitions in fantasy football, baseball and basketball, has awarded more than $6 million in prizes since 2004 operating live, multicity fantasy sports events.

“It couldn’t just be Greg Ambrosius’ fantasy events. We needed a partner, and Stats brings in a great deal of power and stability,” said Ambrosius, who will remain based in Wisconsin, and is a former president of both the Fantasy Sports Trade Association and Fantasy Sports Association. “After more than 20 years in this business, it feels like I’m starting over again, and that’s very exciting.”

Financial terms were not disclosed.

Stats supplied back-end technical support to NFC events from 2004 until the Fanball.com purchase in 2009, with that work typical in Stats’ portfolio in business-to-business data services. Stats, however, was active in the consumer-facing fantasy space in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with partners including America Online and famed baseball historian and analyst Bill James. The NFC deal, company executives said, could be the beginning of a larger push into the consumer market.

“This is a very fertile market and obviously one where we have history, are comfortable with and know well,” said Steve Byrd, Stats executive vice president. “We don’t have any intention to get into the free, ad-supported space. That’s obviously very well staked out by ESPN, Yahoo! and others, many of which are our clients. But the pay side continues to show strong growth, and we think there’s a way for us to achieve scale there.”

The future of other Fanball.com assets, such as its series of league commissioner and draft-and-play games for baseball and football, remains undetermined. But Byrd said Stats may be interested in additional pieces of the St. Louis-based company.

“It’s too soon to say for certain, but yes, there’s potentially interest in other assets there,” he said.

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