SBJ/January 16-22, 2012/Media

CBSSports.com eyes bold stroke in fantasy

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In what is thought to be a first in the industry, CBSSports.com is allowing outside developers full access to its fantasy sports games and underlying data to develop commercial products, in hopes of developing the kind of marketplace for fantasy games that Apple’s iTunes Store has created for apps in general.

CBSSports.com has partnered with six companies at launch — MLB Advanced Media, Bloomberg Sports, Rotowire, Statsheet, Advanced Sports Media and Ziguana — and more are expected to join. The platform will be announced this week at the Fantasy Sports Trade Association’s winter conference in Las Vegas.

The CBSSports.com platform will have a revenue-sharing component with developers.
“The fantasy sports experience simply hasn’t evolved as much as we’d like in the last decade,” said Jason Kint, CBSSports.com senior vice president and general manager. “What we’re trying to do is create an ecosystem and accelerate the next wave of innovation in the industry.”

For developers, especially small operations, it means access to a wealth of consumer data that would have been impossible to compile or buy on their own, and a new way to reach sports fans. For users, it will mean a marketplace populated with new apps designed to enhance their fantasy sports experience.

The platform will work similarly to iTunes. Developers who use the platform will participate in a revenue-sharing agreement with CBSSports.com, with 70 percent going to developers and 30 percent to CBS.

Yahoo! Sports, also a fantasy industry power, allows outside developers access to its league and player data, but those developers cannot charge a fee for games they produce. Whereas Yahoo’s fantasy base is in free-to-play leagues, 60 percent of CBSSports.com fantasy sports customers pay to play.

“Yahoo was the first to move in this direction with developers, and now CBS is kicking the door in,” said Paul Charchian, FSTA president. “This is one of the biggest developments we’ve ever seen in the industry.”

Charchian said the new CBSSports.com platform will create business opportunities for upstart fantasy sports companies that haven’t been able to achieve any meaningful scale on their own, and in most cases, had little hope to do so going forward.

“What’s been done is that a small company that may have a great idea now has access to millions of players,” Charchian said. “The industry has been so stratified among the big three or four companies, that we really don’t even have many middle-tier companies anymore. This platform changes all that pretty dramatically.”

MLBAM, already a business partner of CBSSports.com, is using the platform to develop an application in which subscribers to the MLB.TV online live game package will be automatically directed to the game most relevant to their specific fantasy team. Users of the application will also receive personalized live scoring updates in real time as they watch games online.

“We’re now giving people the chance to actually watch fantasy baseball live,” said Kenny Gersh, MLBAM senior vice president of business development. “We’ve always talked about this sort of thing, but we’re now bringing the idea to life.”

Other products being developed in the new platform include a new fantasy trash-talking application, StatSmack, from Durham, N.C.-based StatSheet, that backs up boasts with a bevy of personalized data, and a wide range of analytics products that will continually update themselves.

“This effort by CBS connects directly with the vision for fantasy that we also have,” said Bill Squadron, head of Bloomberg Sports. Bloomberg will enhance its Front Office fantasy baseball and Decision Maker fantasy football applications using the CBSSports.com fantasy data. “Having this level of deep integration is going to be very helpful.”

A portal within the CBSSports.com, called App Central, will store all the games.

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