SBJ/August 27-September 2, 2012/Media

FoxSports.com charging back into fantasy football

FoxSports.com is attempting an aggressive re-entry into fantasy football after a series of high-profile setbacks, rolling out a new gaming platform and backing it with cross-platform promotion.

The rebuilt Fox Fantasy Football is being supported by WhatIfSports.com, the Cincinnati-based creator of online sports simulations and fantasy games that Fox bought in 2005.

Yahoo Sports, ESPN, CBS Sports, and NFL.com dominate the mainstream fantasy football industry, and are estimated to collectively hold more than 80 percent of the entire market for league management services. With relatively little subscriber churn between competing fantasy providers, FoxSports.com at best can likely aspire to fifth position in the marketplace, at least in the near term.

But given the boost that fantasy football can provide for a website’s traffic and engagement numbers, FoxSports.com and WhatIfSports.com executives said they couldn’t go forward without a meaningful presence in the space. The FoxSports.com fantasy football games, like most key competitors, will be free to play.

“We really want to get into the top three of the market. We know we’re not going to get there overnight. It’s going to be a gradual thing. But that’s our goal,” said Tom Zentmeyer, WhatIfSports.com president and Fox Sports director of interactive games. “If the last seven or eight years had gone differently, we’d be having a different conversation. But we have confidence we can get to that position.”

FoxSports.com had been aligned with Open Sports for its fantasy football services. The Mike Levy-led operation initially made a splash, but after struggling with cost controls and failing to find sufficient audience or advertiser support, Open Sports folded early last year after less than three years of operation.

FoxSports.com in 2005 suffered a series of major technical failures with its fantasy football games during a watershed season for the industry at large in which many games converted from fee-based to free and consumer interest skyrocketed. The technical issues eroded confidence among many consumers and helped drive them to competing outlets.

The new FoxSports.com fantasy football games have already been supported on-air extensively during Fox’s regional and national TV baseball coverage, and its preseason NFL broadcasts, and that will continue into the early fall. Microsoft’s MSN, already a key partner of FoxSports.com, also is playing a significant role in the marketing of the games.

“Fox certainly has a challenge on their hands after trying and generally failing over the past decade to deliver a meaningful product,” said Paul Charchian, Fantasy Sports Trade Association president. “And in the case of ESPN and Yahoo, the main competition for free leagues, they’ve both got really battle-tested, full-featured products that people know, and people tend to stick with what they know.

“Having said all that, Fox has tremendous reach, particularly through their NFL game [coverage]. And with new players continuing to come into the market, that’s likely going to be a big inroad for them.”

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