22 Aug

The NFL: The Ultimate Fantasy League

By Rick Horrow

Throughout the next week, millions of Americans will start playing for the National Football League.

While they won’t be suiting up on offense or defense, men, women, and kids of all ages will hold their fantasy league drafts for the upcoming NFL season – a growing interactive annual phenomenon that has helped the NFL bulk up to the close to $34 billion business it is today. (That number is largely derived from adding up the individual valuations of the league’s 32 teams, starting with the $3.2 billion Dallas Cowboys, according to Forbes’ 2014 NFL calculations.)

While the league that has long been considered the gold standard in professional sports derives little direct income from fantasy football participation, overall, fantasy sports is now an industry in which people are spending more than $4 billion and growing annually—not including sponsors and advertisers who take advantage of fantasy digital platforms and broadcast opportunities, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

Participation in NFL fantasy leagues is the bedrock of that $4 billion annual spend, with the FSTA estimating that people who play fantasy football spend an average of eight hours a week on their passion, not counting the hours they spend actually watching NFL games.

That high level of engagement makes us think that it’s time to give the NFL a more elevated title. Instead of just the “gold standard,” from here on out let’s just call the NFL what it really is: the Ultimate Fantasy League.

Why is fantasy football so popular?
According to Bill Squadron, head of Bloomberg Sports, speaking with host Mark Crumpton on Bloomberg’s “Bottom Line,” people love it because it “allows them to get engaged with the game—even if it’s not their home team—become a general manager, compete with their friends, do a little smack talking, and in the case with the latest craze, daily fantasy games [such as those offered by DraftKings, DraftStreet, DraftDay, and FanEx, among the like] win some money.

“It’s a growing industry,” Squadron notes, “and people are spending money and having a good time.”

One clear area of fantasy sports growth is the proliferation of media outlets dedicated to the practice.

This fall, fantasy football owners are getting their own channel as part of DirecTV’s exclusive “NFL Sunday Ticket” package. The network is adding the DirecTV “Fantasy Zone” to its lineup right next to its uber popular “Red Zone” channel.

DirecTV’s Fantasy Zone channel will focus solely on how live on-field action is affecting fantasy stats, with up to the minute game-to-game analysis and on-screen tickers that offer projections and player updates. To draw a wider audience, especially women, Fantasy Zone programming will include celebrity guest hosts, a live studio audience, and even an on-set kitchen where a chef will whip up tailgating type recipes for viewers at home, according to the net.

Launched last month was a new partnership between the world’s first ever 24/7 Fantasy Sports TV Network (FNTSY) and Bloomberg Sports that includes a daily 30-minute show on fantasy and sports analytics, “Bloomberg Sports Stats Insights.” Hosted by BSports’ Shannon Sommerville, the show takes a daily look at the numbers behind all fantasy sports, with features, guests and news for both daily and season-long fantasy players and sports fans.

“Analytics and statistics are critical components of fantasy sports culture,” said Chad Midgley, Vice President of Content at FNTSY. “We are thrilled about our collaboration with the world’s leading data technology company. Our viewers will have access to the most accurate data-driven projections in the sports world, giving them a clear edge whether they play in daily or season-long fantasy sports leagues.”

Online fantasy sports sites have also proliferated, with Yahoo Sports, ESPN, and others long offering free fantasy draft kits and other league management tools. While traditional print media outlets have been a little slower to jump into the fantasy game, USA Today Sports just completely revamped its fantasy home page, presenting a new daily fantasy game, FantasyScore. Sports Illustrated joined the foray in July with FanNation, a free daily fantasy download developed in partnership with TopLine Games.

Even the satirical website/channel The Onion is “rolling out the second season of its original web series ‘Tough Season,’ a mockumentary about one man’s quest to become champion of his fantasy football league.” The 5-minute episodes are being produced on behalf of technology company Lenovo, according to AdAge, and will feature NFL players including Matt Forte, Andrew Luck, and Wes Welker.
Sports facilities are getting into the game as well. The Jacksonville Jaguars last year added a glitzy fantasy lounge at EverBank Field that proved so popular with fans there was often a long line waiting to get in.

And at brand new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, “our 40 Gigabits per second of available internet bandwidth – 4 times the NFL standard for stadiums for 2015 – will enable people to use their smart phones to check fantasy stats more easily than any other U.S. stadium,” says Roger Hacker, Senior Manager of Corporate Communications for the San Francisco 49ers. “The Yahoo Fantasy Football Lounge will keep fans with access to the club connected to their fantasy team by televising multiple games, as will a fantasy sports ticker within the interior of the club,” Hacker adds.

Last year, the FSTA gave BSports an award for its own fantasy football draft kit, built by a combination of mathematicians, engineers, and football experts—a strategy the company deploys with all of its fantasy sports models. When asked on air for some “sleeper” fantasy picks, Squadron named Ryan Fitzpatrick in Houston, Mark Ingram in New Orleans, and James Jones in Oakland.

Skeptical? BSports picked Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy as its #1 sleeper pick in 2013. That seemed to turn out well for all involved.

BSports 2014 Top Running Backs (with projected yards)

1. Jamaal Charles 1236
2. Lesean McCoy 1385
3. Adrian Peterson 1324
4. Eddie Lacy 1224
5. Matt Forte 1175

BSports 2014 Top Fantasy Wide Receivers (with projected touchdowns)

1. Calvin Johnson 12.1
2. Demaryius Thomas 11.9
3. Dez Bryant 11.6
4. Brandon Marshall 10.0
5. A.J. Green 10.2

Follow Rick Horrow (@RickHorrow) and Karla Swatek (@kswak) on Twitter.

The post The NFL: The Ultimate Fantasy League appeared first on Bloomberg Sports.

From:: The Sports Professor Rick Horrow on Bloomberg Sports

08 Aug

Heeeeeeere’s Rory?? PGA Today Has Shades of “Tonight”

By Rick Horrow

Photo by Action Images / Paul Childs Livepic

Photo by Action Images / Paul Childs Livepic

It’s the end of an era. The younger generation doesn’t want the product that’s been delivered for decades. Older, loyal fans won’t transition over to the new faces on the screen, resulting in lower ratings and ad dollars, fewer sponsorship deals, pretty much the end of the world as we know it. Chaos will undoubtedly ensue.

This scenario could well describe the unease PGA of America officials and their television partners feel as they prepare to face what looks like a Tiger-less weekend at the PGA Championship at Valhalla – currently at +3, our striped hero Woods looks like he might miss the projected +1 cut. But it more closely recalls the widespread doomsday predictions made on Friday, May 22, 1992, when 30-year “Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson taped his final show, viewed by more than 50 million, before handing the reins to “upstart” Jay Leno.

At the time, a Gallup poll showed fans preferring Carson to Leno nearly 2 to 1, with even the under 30 demographic leaning heavily towards Carson. A USA Today letter to the editor from one Pati Bemis of Yakima, Washington, summed up many peoples’ thoughts. “I have a feeling the ratings will drop with Jay Leno,” Bemis wrote. “He doesn’t have the charisma that Johnny has.” Even famed columnist Jimmy Breslin declared, “I imagine Leno is an extraordinarily nice fellow, but he is not going to make it with ‘The Tonight Show.’”

Fast forward to 2014, when fans and pundits alike are predicting the end of golf as we know it with the decline of Tiger Woods. Even with the rise of some of the game’s top young players, including Open Championship winner Rory McIlroy (currently in the lead at Valhalla and on track to win his third tourney and second Major in a row), the charismatic Rickie Fowler, and Lagardere Unlimited young guns Harris English and Jordan Spieth, the absence of Woods in the game in any real capacity has definitely dealt a blow to TV ratings and golf participation alike.

In Louisville, the year’s final Major is a sellout. PGA officials reported advance ticket sales for the tournament are the highest in the 96-year history of the Championship, with about 50,000 spectators forecast to visit Valhalla on each day of official tournament rounds, and ticket purchasers attending from all 50 states and 46 countries.

More than 3,500 volunteers signed up to work the event this week, and more than 100 local and national companies purchased corporate hospitality facilities.

All told, according to Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s office and the Louisville Sports Commission, the Louisville region is expecting up to a $100 million economic impact from this year’s PGA Championship. The event has created more than 1,000 jobs in Louisville, and will raise about $500,000 for local and regional charities and $2.5 million in tax revenue. The tournament is also reportedly generating 24,000 local hotel room nights.

The PGA Championship is not exactly up there with Louisville’s signature event – the Kentucky Derby – in terms of the number of visitors it attracts. But the $10 million PGA event is “a prime opportunity to showcase Louisville on a global stage,” Mayor Fischer told Rick during an interview this week on Rick’s national Yahoo Sports Radio show “Beyond the Scoreboard.”

Beyond Valhalla, golf’s annual economic impact across the nation is still close to $70 billion, and supports more than two million jobs. But as well cited by a New York Times story on August 5, the sport, and its inherent country clubs and resorts, has “a Generation Y problem. Young adults do not flock to the fairway the way baby boomers did, and young business travelers are disinclined to commit four or five hours to a single game.”

From 1996 through 2013, according to D.K. Shifflet and Associates, a tourism and travel research company cited by the Times, “the average age of a hotel guest rose by roughly a year, to 46; during the same period, the average age of a hotel guest who played golf went up by two and a half years, to roughly 49. In 2013, only 22% of travelers under 33 played golf when they stayed at a resort, compared with 42% of baby boomers.”

While Woods cannot be solely blamed for the decline in an interest in golf among Gen Y and millennials, his absence has had a direct impact on lower TV ratings for all golf tournaments in which he was not a contender on Sunday – meaning pretty much all of them recently. Even McIlroy’s 2-shot win over Fowler and Sergio Garcia at the British Open two weeks ago, with Garcia challenging most of the way, was down 28% from Phil Mickelson’s win last year and tied ESPN’s lowest rating since the tournament moved over from ABC in 2010.

When Woods showed up at Valhalla on Wednesday, his unexpected arrival after a seemingly serious back injury last weekend breathed new life into the televised tournament, showing crowds jamming the driving range, an online “Tiger Tracker” brought to life, and Golf Channel going commercial free for a whole hour just to follow his every practice swing. Execs at TNT and weekend broadcaster CBS were no doubt jumping for joy. But unless Woods goes really low on Friday afternoon, that may be in vain.

After a somewhat rocky start, Leno did just fine in Carson’s footsteps for 22 years, and Jimmy Fallon, with his popular musical skits and Thank You notes, is finding his way after Leno in turn stepped down last winter (albeit to lower ratings – with TV’s fragmentation, no one will ever pull the numbers Carson did in his prime).

And like the “Tonight Show,” nearing 75 years on air, after Tiger hangs it up for good and Rory turns 30…then 40…golf will persevere. In part, because it’s a generational sport, handed down from dad to kid. In part, because it’s slowly accepting trendy modifications (Hack Golf, Glo Ball) and focusing more attention on golf lifestyle products.

In that vein, Zynga announced on Thursday that it reached a deal with Woods on a series of social games for mobile devices, and it’s worth noting that the two best-selling shirts in Valhalla’s enormous PGA merchandise tent are McIlroy’s Saturday and Sunday attire, and Woods’ black and red Sunday shirt.

Perhaps PGA execs should crib Fallon’s playbook and send Zynga and Nike a Thank You note.

Follow Rick Horrow (@RickHorrow) and Karla Swatek (@kswak) on Twitter.

The post Heeeeeeere’s Rory?? PGA Today Has Shades of “Tonight” appeared first on Bloomberg Sports.

From:: The Sports Professor Rick Horrow on Bloomberg Sports

01 Aug

It’s August, and the NFL is Full of Happy Campers

By Rick Horrow

Photo by Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports / Reuters

Photo by Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports / Reuters

It’s (un)officially football season: NFL training camps across the league are now open for business. Among the major issues clouding the otherwise sunny skies of the 2014-2015 season are ownership changes. In Denver, 30-year Broncos owner Pat Bowlen has announced he is stepping down to combat his worsening battle with Alzheimers; a succession plan has not yet been announced. And in Buffalo, the family of late owner Ralph Wilson has opened up the bidding process for the Bills. Among the team’s suitors are NHL Sabres owner Terry Pegula, developer Donald Trump, and a group led by rocker Jon Bon Jovi.

Whoever prevails, the NFL is likely on the brink of its biggest team sale ever. Pegula’s opening bid reportedly is worth $1.3 billion, which would top the current record $1.1 billion Stephen Ross paid for the Miami Dolphins in 2009. Pegula is the frontrunner to buy the team from the Wilson estate, not only because he had by far the highest opening offer, but also because he wants to keep the team in Buffalo.
Also hovering overhead is yet another lawsuit filed by former NFL players, this time over painkillers and other drugs. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 500 former players in U.S. District Court in Northern California and amended two weeks later to add another 250 plaintiffs. Notables filing suit include Marcellus Wiley, Jim McMahon, and Richard Dent.

But as always, the NFL remains the golden child of pro sports networks, near impervious to ownership musical chairs or negative headlines. On a very positive note, as the league heads into its annual Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Canton, OH on Saturday and first preseason game to follow on Sunday, broadcast and licensing revenue for the 32 NFL teams reached $6 billion in 2014, the highest ever for the league, with each franchise taking home $187.7 million.

Each team will also see a 20% rise in national TV money this year, a hike that comes as a result of the new TV deals kicking in next month. According to the report, by 2016, each NFL team will bring in at least $181 million from national TV alone, and once its Sunday Ticket deal is wrapped up, that total could surpass $200 million.

NFL Media also announced plans to offer comprehensive coverage of all 32 training and all 65 preseason games including a record 14 live games on NFL Network. Preseason matchups will begin with the 49ers-Ravens on August 7. NFL Network’s preseason coverage is presented by sponsors including Heineken, Mitsubishi, and Toshiba.

If it’s NFL training camp time, it must be time for the annual preseason NFL Players Inc’s list of the league’s top selling jerseys. Browns quarterback, rookie Johnny Manziel, is #1 on the list – he’s had the league’s best selling jersey since April (and his jersey is the best seller of all NFL licensed products). He’s followed by Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Richard Sherman, and Peyton Manning in the Top 5. Rams DE Michael Sam also finished in the top 50, coming in at #41. The replica jerseys retail for $99.95.

The NFL summer preseason is also the perfect time to announce fun new NFL-themed promotions, and in Wisconsin and Maryland, the medium of choice is lottery tickets. Earlier this week, the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin Lottery officials unveiled details of “three scratch-off games in which fans can win” 2015 Packers tickets in addition to cash prizes, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette. A $5 Champions Club game can “pay up to $45,000 instantly, and people who buy $5 or more in tickets can enter a second-chance drawing that includes 95 pairs of regular season game tickets and one pair of club-level seats. (In a state where the waiting list for Packers season tickets numbers in the hundred thousands, the chance for tickets is worth more than cash to many residents.)

In Maryland, meanwhile, the Ravens and the Maryland Lottery for the sixth consecutive year are partnering on a team-themed ticket, which this year will be the $5 Ravens Cash Fantasy scratch-off game. The tickets will feature 160 top prizes of $5,000, as well as 28,000 more prizes ranging from $50-500, plus more than $250,000 in second-chance cash prizes, and will be sold at every Ravens home game and at more than 4,400 retail locations statewide, according to the Maryland Lottery commission.

Facilities upgrades also take center stage in the preseason. In Jacksonville, EverBank Field’s upgrades were unveiled last Saturday prior to a soccer friendly between DC United and EPL club Fulham FC. According to the Florida Times-Union, those in attendance gave Jaguars Owner Shahid Khan “a standing ovation as he took the podium to debut the video boards,” also an acknowledgement of Khan’s diehard commitment to the team and the city. And in Charlotte, 36,515 fans turned out to see major upgrades to a newly renovated Bank of America Stadium, including new video boards, ribbon boards, escalators, and an updated sound system.

The Oakland Raiders have so far rebuffed requests by Commissioner Goodell and others to share the sparkling new high-tech Levi’s Stadium with the cross-town 49ers, and they are again making headlines as owner Mark Davis met with San Antonio officials to discuss the possibility of relocating the team. Davis is upset with the Raiders’ stadium situation, and the team’s lease at O.co Coliseum expires after the 2014 season.

One owner likely to reject that move is Jerry Jones, whose Dallas Cowboys have a strong following in the San Antonio area. Instead, Jones supports having an NFL-owned stadium in Los Angeles, and he believes the market could have a team within the next five years. Pro sports teams have long used San Antonio as leverage to get better stadium deals from their current cities. While the Raiders relocating to South Texas is unlikely, Southern California is a much more viable option. If the NFL is willing to fund a stadium, as Jones suggests, no team would be a better fit than the Raiders.

Jones’ firm stance on protecting his market may be partly fueled by the lower fan turnout at training camp. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the Cowboys have drawn close to 6,500 fewer fans to training camp thus far than they did last year. Still, Jones, speaking for the league as a whole, noted, “This is one of the best times I know of in the NFL in terms of attendance for practicing.”

Golden times, indeed.

Follow Rick Horrow (@RickHorrow) and Karla Swatek (@kswak) on Twitter.

The post It’s August, and the NFL is Full of Happy Campers appeared first on Bloomberg Sports.

From:: The Sports Professor Rick Horrow on Bloomberg Sports