A look at who deserves to win the fantasy sports industry’s top honors
In the days ahead, winners will hoist a trophy over their heads in central Florida, the culmination of a long year of hard work and sleepless nights.
I am referring, of course, to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association’s Industry Recognition Awards for 2008, which takes place Jan. 27 and 28 in St. Petersburg, ahead of the Super Bowl.
With voting, balloting and awards all over the news lately — from baseball’s hall of fame voting to the Golden Globes to the return of “American Idol,” — the FSTA deserves its moment. What follows is a quick look at the more interesting of the 16 races, pitting behemoths like ESPN against on-the-rise communities like PAPSN.net’s “Mock GM” game. (The entire list of nominees can be found here.):
Best Fantasy Commissioner Product
CBSSports.com has turned into the Tom Hanks of fantasy commissioner products.
Consider CBSSports.com‘s commissioner tool the Tom Hanks of this award. CBS has taken home the prize every year of the category’s existence. This year should be no exception, as the system made small, helpful tweaks to an already superior product while maintaining a glitch-free and user-friendly format.
Honorable mention should go to MyFantasyLeague.com, for no other reason than their fun Strange Plays section, which goes the extra mile by pointing out special teams scoring, two-point conversions and other unique occurrences that might affect a team’s fantasy results.
Best New Web Site or Site Update
It’s a wide-open race. A case could be made for any of these contenders:
AOL Sports Fanhouse: This site provides a plethora of irreverent links and great writing. They’ll only see more growth with the recent additions of national writers Lisa Olson and Kevin Blackistone. And Jay Mariotti — though even Roger Ebert hates him — should also bring more readers to the site … for the same reason traffic slows down for an accident on the other side of the road.
CBSSports.com College Fantasy Football: CBS stood up to the NCAA by using the names of college players, even though the two are partners in airing the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The game itself has some kinks to smooth out and could use a bit of a redesign. But the fact that it exists despite the NCAA’s lawyers earns its spot here.
FantasySportsBusiness.com: With a reported $1.5 billion floating around in the industry, this site keeps tabs on every new development. It provides the perfect complement to the equally informative RotoNation.com.
OneSeason: It’s produced a wild ride for investors in this market where players buy and sell “stock” in actual athletes, but OneSeason is still standing and providing a genuinely fun alternative to fantasy sports — while paying out real money. Most of its detractors have been silenced: players have received checks and posted photos of them on message boards. Sign up now and you may have a chance at the soon-to-be-released Babe Ruth and Michael Beasley IPOs.
RotoExperts.com: It’s hard to dislike a site that sponsored a fighter in December’s Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-view. But they’re more than clever marketing. The site’s columns — authored by sketch comedians (Tom Lorenzo) and TV producers (Paul Bourdett), among others — are lively and smart and have been picked up by media giants Sports Illustrated, Yahoo and USA Today.
Sports Data Hub: SDH not only helps you mine the data you want, but also presents it in an appealing display to make all the stats make more sense.
While no entry can duplicate the excellent quality of writing by the team of RotoExperts, the nod here has to go to Fanhouse for their solid fantasy content, their breakneck pop-culture-filled pre-game expert chats and — the tie-breaker — their incorporation of the smooth-running Fleaflicker fantasy gaming platform.
Best Draft-Style Contest
I profiled PASPN.Net’s Mock GM game at the start of basketball season. The changes owner Ngozika Nwaneri introduced since its inception a few years ago (adding an in-season fantasy element, for instance) have elevated Mock GM to one of the most in-depth and enjoyable fantasy games in the industry.
Best Live Fantasy Event or Contest
Last year’s ESPN.com Fantasy Football Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony was an act of pure genius. Derek Anderson and Brandon Marshall — two of 2007’s biggest fantasy football surprises — actually showed up in Las Vegas during Super Bowl weekend to accept their red induction blazers.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Derek Anderson, wearing his red blazer during the 2008 Fantasy Football Hall of Fame ceremony.
ESPN’s mere presence in this category is borderline unfair because of its size and stature, akin to having Mikhail Baryshnikov compete on “Dancing With the Stars.” The winner in the Non-ESPN category (which exists only in my mind) should go to AOL Sports Fanhouse for their no holds barred chat every Sunday before football games. The format is far from unique, but Fanhouse manages to field every question asked while keeping it lively, informative and entertaining.
LeagueSafe is the answer to the prayers of disgruntled commissioners. The service collects the entry fees for fantasy players and holds them in an FDIC-insured account. At the end of the season, the winner of the league receives a Visa card pre-loaded with their winnings. By alleviating them of much of their financial responsibilities, the site gives commissioners the free time necessary to actually play the game instead of just running it. Granted, the commissioner loses money by not collecting interest off that money that could sit in his own bank account for six months. But by season’s end, he could have spared himself downing a season’s worth of Pepto-Bismol by going it alone.
Best Print or Magazine Ad
Not to make it a LeagueSafe love-fest, but their ad captures the frustration of a commissioner perfectly.
* * *
The FSTA will announce and present the awards during its conference and it will update its Web site with the winners. Paying close attention may make a difference in your 2009 fantasy season.
Write to Nando Di Fino at firstname.lastname@example.org
Corrections & Amplifications
An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Lisa Olson as Lisa Olsen.
By NANDO DI FINO