Any More Fantasy Baseball Games?

Like Mike Trout, hasfantasy baseball reached its ceiling? (via Erik Drost)

Like Mike Trout, hasfantasy baseball reached its ceiling? (via Erik Drost)

You’ve played fantasy baseball. Simulation, possibly. Rotisserie, head-to-head or both, probably. Redraft, dynasty or keeper, and now daily, as a matter of fact. You like some formats more than others. There’s a league for just about anybody, thank goodness.

Is there anything left? Has the emergence of daily fantasy baseball, the popularity of which has risen sharply in the past couple of years, exhausted the possibilities for the types of hardball games people can play? If not, is the untapped quarter inhabited by competitions that the community would pay to play?

The origins of fantasy baseball games may provide some clues to where the industry is headed. Business wasn’t bad before daily fantasy sports came along. Visionaries in the industry have already supplied the kinds of pursuits that impel long-term interest and commitment. Business has been really good since daily games’ emergence, however.

Be that as it may, prospective difficulties exist. The industry could run out of unique, workable ideas. Most of the potential snags are related to the law, though. No endeavor is without risk, but few roadblocks are as intimidating.

And so, as a fantasy baseball player might wonder about Mike Trout, is there any more upside?

Fantasy Baseball: Sustainable Business

If you’re a passionate fantasy baseball player, you’re probably familiar with how it all began.

Writer and editor Daniel Okrent is generally credited with the invention in 1980 of Rotisserie League Baseball, which was chronicled in ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 production “Silly Little Game” and most resembles what the vast majority of fantasy competitors plays today. The first commercial “fantasy” game – and therefore the first fantasy sports game, period, as it bills itself – might, nonetheless, technically be Hal Richman’s Strat-O-Matic, a simulation contrived from statistical probabilities based on historical accomplishments that launched, beginning with its hardball product, in 1961. That is, of course, unless you count somewhat similar pastimes of the first half of the 20th century or what the eventual 28th President of the United States first played in 1871.

Strat-O-Matic’s format has expanded from its modest beginnings, which involved dice and individual player cards, thanks to computer technology. It’s fair to say, though, that Richman’s game hasn’t benefited quite as the industry as a whole has from expansion to the Internet. As recently as 2012, the estimated number of fantasy baseball players alone was 11 million. Today, more than 40 million Americans and Canadians play all fantasy sports, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. Most of those players are members of a very attractive demographic to marketers.

As fantasy sports have grown, so has participants’ willingness to spend to play them. It was far from unusual for team owners in fantasy baseball leagues to put something besides pride on the line before broadband Internet. But online services would begin to offer not only streamlined destinations for league hosts but also contests with prizes, in some cases monetary. These models were kind of primitive in their relative infancy, as The Hardball Times’ Michael Barr recalls, but they paved the way for propositions with payouts.

It was a natural progression, as Greg Ambrosius discerned. “I just saw where the industry was going,” says the founder of the National Fantasy Baseball and Football Championships, which kicked off in 2004. “I actually thought the contests would help our magazines survive. Then, of course, we lost the magazines because the Internet took over, but yet our contests grew so much, it became a full-time job doing that.” This season, the NFBC has hosted nearly 6,000 teams and 1,500 unique players. He didn’t initially expect them to become so fruitful, but he did see an opportunity. “I knew there were paying customers out there.”

Major League Baseball seemed to sense the earnings possibilities of fantasy sports, too. MLB Advanced Media and the  Players Association struck an agreement in 2005 that purported to give to the league exclusive online rights to the use of – among other “intellectual property” – player names and statistics. They then denied a licensing agreement to, among others, CDM Fantasy Sports, a host of salary-cap-style. CDM’s parent company sued MLB’s Internet branch for the treatment. A federal court’s 2006 decision, upheld until the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear MLBAM’s appeal in 2008, was a victory for all fantasy sports.

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) changed the bounty for fantasy sports, though, quite literally. It was a measure added to the SAFE Port Act that in part distinguished online pay-to-play fantasy sports, including those with cash prizes, from wagers on games of chance.

“There had never really been a very broad federal legal definition – that fantasy for money is legal,” explains Geoff Bough, head of business development at FanDuel, the leading daily fantasy sports network. Not long afterward, he continues, entrepreneurs began to explore concepts for fantasy formats other than the season-long variety, which, some companies have found, doesn’t provide the ideal foundation for a commercial model.

“Fantasy is a great game, but one of the unfortunate things about it from an actual business perspective is that it has an insanely slow turnover in money,” Bough says. “The advantage of daily fantasy of course is that from a business perspective the money turnover is much greater, so that it actually becomes something that can be a viable business. And it’s a compelling concept, in that it’s a much shorter time period to get your result. And then thirdly, actually, it has spawned a number of interesting games over time as well.”

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Daily Fantasy Sparks Expansion, Evolution

The earnings paradigm for one-day contest companies has undeniably aroused grander investor interest, which in turn has had a bearing on the stacks of dough they distribute. FanDuel’s website boasts of its projected revenue ($40 million this year), accumulated capital to date ($18 million) and prize money awarded weekly (more than $10 million). Its chief rival in the space, DraftKings, has received significant backing, promises $200 million in prizes per its website and recently acquired a competitor, DraftStreet. These outfits make up a major portion of what’s considered the fastest-growing segment of an industry appraised as one of the 10 fastest growing by IBISWorld, a market research publisher, in April 2013. And they don’t intend to slow down. Bough confirmed that his company expects to disburse approximately $1 billion in prizes in 2015.

It might then be easy to comprehend why the NFBC et al. have had a promotional relationship with FanDuel for the past couple of years. “It makes STATS extra money, it gives us good players,” concedes Bough of the provider that’s nowadays home to the well-known high-stakes contests. Likely eager players, at that. “FanDuel alone is going to pay over $400 million this year,” emphasizes Ambrosius, now general manager of consumer fantasy games for STATS LLC. “We’re going to give away over $5 million in prizes this year. Hell, that’s a great year for us. We’re excited to be giving away $5 million.”

Ambrosius sees the relationship as nothing but positive, not just for his business but for the entire industry. “Well for one thing they’re bringing in new customers to the pay-to-play fantasy model, there’s no question about that,” he begins. “Whenever I was the president of the trade conference, I always said, the goal is to grow the pie. We’re not trying to steal customers from each other, it’s grow the pie. … We know our customers are going to find them anyway.”

Bough agrees, and he believes that companies like his address what previously might have been an issue for the industry. “One of the advantages I think is that daily fantasy is exposing a younger demographic to the game of fantasy.” Season-long players may start to opt for short-term games instead, but he, like Ambrosius, reckons that some daily players could eventually decide to give those competitions a rest in favor of the full-season version. “We do have people … who say, I’ve never played season-long before. I know it sounds crazy.”

Ambrosius, over and above, appreciates the way sites like FanDuel improve their products. “They’ve obviously got millions of dollars behind them in venture capital, but they are spending it not only on marketing but on technology. Their games are slick. Their live scoring is slick. They’re pushing the envelope on all of us to try and keep up with what they’re doing there.” That’s good for the consumer, he says.

Bough, one of only five members of both the Fantasy Sports Trade Association and Fantasy Sports Writers Association halls of fame speaks from experience, his business having been a beneficiary of significant gains on the tech side prior to the rise of one-day play. One byproduct: the mitigated cost (e.g., elimination of travel expenses) to participate. “People aren’t afraid to draft a team online for $5,000. When we started this in 2004, we didn’t even have any online drafts because the technology wasn’t strong enough, the Internet connections weren’t good enough, people’s computers were too old.”

Ambrosius suspects that the daily player has brought an increased tolerance for risk to his competitions, as well. “People wait until the day of the online drafts, and they jump in at the last minute.” He’d been used to contestants who’d sign up days in advance in order to have time to strategize.

“The technology just makes it better and better, and that’s what’s making our industry grow, as much as the daily games industry,” he proclaims.

Single-day contests have driven the competition in other ways, too, as Bough has witnessed. “Just based on the duration of game, you can come up with these other innovations that I think are pretty unique and have been pretty compelling in the daily fantasy spot.”

Innovation: Driving Force

Naturally, technological advancements have expanded the horizon for ways to play. “We really have created some unique formats. At one point, we just had one contest,” Ambrosius reflects. “Everybody flew into Vegas for one draft and then went home. Seems kind of weird now.” And he says that his clientele, which includes some big-time fantasy players, aids the process. “A lot of the suggestions we get from our customers.

“We’re trying to create new games that are very different, exciting, easy to draft – because that’s the key, people want to come in at night, find a contest that they can draft in about two hours, and it’s an easy format to manage,” Ambrosius says. He points to one that has caught on with his football players, the Cutline Championship,which one might call daily-game influenced and will have an NFBC version in 2015. “Get into past the All-Star break, and then the top teams will advance. We’ll have a cut line that they have to finish above, and they continue to do that until that last week, there are only a couple of teams left.”

For his part, Ron Shandler, the publisher of the “Baseball Forecaster” and founder of Baseball HQ, continues his search for a novel challenge as well. Daily contests weren’t at the end of his rainbow. “I’ve made my name in this industry based on long-term analysis of player performance,” he says. “The whole idea of having to play a game on a single night just is in complete conflict with everything that I’ve done for 30 years.”

That’s not an indictment, mind you. “You know how I came to terms with it?” offers Shandler, like Ambrosius a member of the halls of fame of both fantasy associations. “When we project player performance, we’re projecting skill, and we’re projecting playing time. Over a full-season league, you can pretty much get a good sense of skill, but playing time is a complete crapshoot. And it’s the exact opposite in the daily game,” he imparts. “It’s just a different way of looking at it.

“I think that realization and accepting the fact that our society … we have shorter attention spans, we want more immediate gratification. The daily game makes perfect sense to feed into that,” he acknowledges.

The man who pioneered the establishment of Tout Wars, the national series of industry expert competitions, and experimented with fantasy baseball variations like Roto 500 found another way to cope, as well: a one-month roto game anchored at a new site he calls Shandler Park. “For those people who have been playing full-season for so long, and especially those who really get off on the day-to-day drama of following the standings, I thought the monthly game fit that need perfectly. That’s the middle ground.”

Shandler saw no alternative outlet for what’s still a large population. “Part of the reason I started it is because people tend to lose interest as the summer wears on, and their teams start falling out of contention in their full-season leagues,” he says. “I thought, well this might be a good way to give people a chance to keep their interest up all summer long.” It hasn’t gone quite as hoped, he acknowledges, maybe because that time of year already makes for a tough draw, but  he’s far from discouraged. “I learned a lot. And we’re probably going to make a bunch of changes for next year. But for the most part I consider it a success, and we’ll just build from here.”

Adaptations are often all it takes. “That’s one thing that I think a lot of people miss with innovation,” asserts Bough. “A lot of people think innovation is, man, I’ve got to invent the second wheel. I’ve got to invent something totally from scratch.” Instead, much of it is refinement of good ideas, he continues. “It’s a lot more subtle than I think most people envision it.”

Scoresheet’s story starts with a dose of that. “Pretty much the impetus for starting Scoresheet was we played Strat-O-Matic as kids,” says Jeff Barton, a co-founder of the simulation spinoff. As rotisserie baseball was blossoming, his brother, David, a computer programmer, didn’t care for “straight stat adding,” but he found the idea of March drafts and using that season’s numbers appealing. “So he spent a couple of years in the mid-’80s writing the program that would kind of take the simulation concept of Pursue the Pennant and Strat-O-Matic and all, but use current statistics. And then in ’87 we started.

“If we’d had any idea that fantasy was going to grow to be tens of millions of people playing, when you count all the sports, we probably would’ve gone out and borrowed every penny we could,” he goes on. “But we actually thought it was going to be more like the hula hoop.”

Scoresheet, like Strat-O-Matic, isn’t free to play, yet the company doesn’t dole out fiscal winnings. Similarly, it furnishes its brand of game for other sports but is relatively notorious for its rawhide edition. Barton admits that his and his brother’s business has grown slowly, however, and it’s not just because the two of them failed to bankroll their project. He alludes to a quote from the San Francisco Chronicle that appears on the game’s website: “Comparing Scoresheet Baseball to other fantasy games is like comparing chess to checkers.”

Baseball indisputably has a committed hobby crowd, especially when you consider the assortment of activities the sport has inspired. Richman easily identifies a core reason: its fans’ insatiable appetites for information. “The majority of its statistics … are independent of others, or they’re limitedly affected by them,” Richman says. “In football, basketball and hockey, they’re all more dependent on their teammates.” The Bartons’ tale wouldn’t surprise Strat-O-Matic’s designer and president. “Baseball is the game model that mathematicians seek out.”

Which takes us back to the future. That maxim remains for all types of fantasy baseball games as well as the people who invent them. It might be easy to overlook how inventive Richman was more than 50 years ago. But even today, his team hasn’t finished innovating, has it? “That’s an interesting question, and it has to do with our research and development,” he says. “We are working on something I can’t go into at this time.”

At the other end of the spectrum, the industry would seem to have run out of room in terms of game interval. Not true, it appears, thanks to a start-up called Fanamana, which contends that it’s “the first truly live, legal, in-game experience.” In this mobile contest, participants “will select their batters as the game unfolds,” their teams pitted against those of other players, according to its website. Fanamana could be a single-day experience on steroids (perhaps not the best choice of metaphors), but in it, “runs are the name of the game, not fantasy points,” perhaps giving it the feel of a simulation at the same time.

“I think there are always new games to create,” Shandler says, before brainstorming the means for some short-term keeper formats for daily games in the midst of his stream of thought. “There are so many possible variations on this stuff, it’s. … Yeah, I don’t think we’re even close to tapping into … to hitting the ceiling on how many possible variations there are.”

Ambrosius ostensibly concurs. “I’m sure there is. We come up with new things all the time,” he replies when asked if there are more contests lurking out there.

“I think the tweaks will probably get smaller,” Barton says. He, as some others do, expects the categories of rotisserie games and the ilk to evolve. “I think in 10 years most games will be using on-base percentage and not batting average. … I think that the sabermetric statistics will take over a little more … because the people growing up now, those terms are all familiar to them.”

“You’re crazy if you say no,” Bough, the FanDuel official, responds to the same query put to the rest of some of the industry’s leading minds, before tempering his enthusiasm. “But by the same token, you don’t know. I know that’s a horrible answer.”

He is assured that it isn’t. Every swing of the bat in this space, whether it turns out to be a seeing-eye single or a moonshot, encounters diffidence somewhere along the line.

Playing the Skeptic

Bough adds: “I will say this: A lot of people think right now, and some people are betting on it … mobile is where this will be next,” referring to ventures like Fanamana, unwittingly or not. “Is that the right bet? Is that the right innovation?” He observes a wave of games that may be too simple. “What I see with some of the newer ones out there that are trying to be easier and more mobile is that it doesn’t resemble fantasy.”

On a divergent note, Shandler, whose background begins with marketing, is leery of the bit of one-day-to-full-season crossover the NFBC hopes to see. “I would be very surprised if the daily gamer would be interested in trying a full-season league. I think they’re two very different markets,” he says. “They’re so different that I really don’t see how one has that much of an effect on the other.”

Nevertheless, Ambrosius remains optimistic about that possibility. He’s been forced to rebut what he clearly views as a more egregious question. Will daily games take the place of the season-long style? “No! The one thing the daily people don’t offer is offseason drafts, and people love to draft, and we fill up leagues every single night. Just like they do during the season, we do it during the offseason.” He was asked in a radio interview if the daily game would mean the extinction of the sort of game he sells. He thinks not. “The only way it’s going to be a dinosaur is if we are bad businesspeople.”

Barton, on another front, mulls the fortunes of Shandler’s plan for monthly leagues. “I don’t know whether it’ll take off or whether he’s aiming for a market that doesn’t much exist,” he says, with a tone of curiosity laden with uncertainty more than criticism.

Shandler, the author of Fanalytics, remains confident, though, speculating that season-long and daily players haven’t had much of an opportunity to examine his brand new game. “I think right now the two camps have dug in their heels so much that nobody is willing to consider a middle ground just quite yet. But I think the time’s going to come.”

Before he launched Shandler Park, he asked Barton why Scoresheet’s retention rate is so great. “His game is unique enough, and I guess his core customer base is so dedicated to the way the game is set up, that it’s not important to them that there isn’t any prize at the end,” Shandler recognizes. “It’s like going to a ballpark. You pay whatever you pay for a ticket to a ballgame, and you don’t expect to come back out having won any cash. You’re playing for the enjoyment of playing in the game.”

Bough trusts that nothing will replace simulations. But he doesn’t anticipate that they’re threats to expand the way other games have. “These things were niches before daily fantasy even came along. There are always going to be people who want to play certain games.”

Still, Barton has closet aspirations for a game analogous to his. “I do think that somewhere down the line there will be a game like Scoresheet that’s played by a lot more than the 5,000 people we have. “At some point either some big Internet company or some guy with too much money will decide that he wants to give it a big marketing shot.”

What seem to prompt Barton’s reservations are daily contests.  “I was just under the assumption that daily fantasy games were pure luck, or 99 per cent luck, and that you could almost do as well just throwing darts at a dartboard.” . A seminar at the 2013 Arizona Fall League edition of the First Pitch Forums, another Shandler conception, opened Barton’s eyes, particularly about how proficient some players are. “It’s obviously not pure luck if the same guy’s winning every day.” he says. “That’s kind of the definition of skill, right?”

That leads Barton to some of his misgivings about them. “And then I also heard talks about the kinds of things people are doing to make optimum choices for their daily lineup. And then I realized I’d almost have to be retired before I want to play daily, because if you’re playing for money, you want to win, and there are people that are treating it now as full-time job.”  He recalls competitions like CDM’s, which had a similar type of devotion. “People were getting up at 5 in the morning and studying weather reports, because if you were really trying to win, you could not afford to have your starting pitcher be rained out that day.

“If daily gets to that point, to where you’ve got to spend three hours every morning checking weather reports and injury reports and doing really high-end match-up analysis, I wonder if at some point it becomes more of a job than a game.” He thinks that could be a deterrent for the average, and presumably less avid, player. “If there’s skill involved, the guy that puts the most time in and has the best system is going to win a lot.”

Indeed. FanDuel’s home page features a photo and quote from accomplished player Chris Prince, whom the site reports has won more than $600,000 there. Some people have turned to daily fantasy sports as a source of their livelihood. Reports, such as this one from Business Insider, this one from Bloomberg and this one from The Wall Street Journal, indicate that their number – along with, in some cases, their fame – is increasing.

Such a trend isn’t necessarily a negative for one-day competitions, though. Barton realizes that to pan the genre may be unwise, “because it’s by far the biggest growing segment of the fantasy industry.”

Bough, FanDuel’s business development coordinator, understands why anyone would be apprehensive about a design in this arena. “The internet is littered with gravestones,” he says. “People had some great idea and it just failed. For a time period people thought daily fantasy was going to wind up the same way. ‘It’s niche, it’s only social hardcore guys, it’s degenerate gamblers, it’s this, it’s that.’” So far, so good.

Legal Obstacles

But … ah, yes, the whole gambling thing. You had to bring that up again. No facet of this debate, or other means of hazard to any company, inspires doubt or angst quite like one that involves the legal department.

Shandler thinks that the daily games are legal under the UIGEA, the 2006 law that drew a distinction between fantasy sports for money and games of chance.  But, he says, “I worry because I look at a game as, ‘can this game stand on its own if there’s no cash prize?’” He contends full-season fantasy leagues have already demonstrated that they do. “The daily games worry me because I don’t think there’s any business there if there’s no cash. And that to me is more of a definition of gambling than anything else.”

Would people still play single-day fantasy contests if there weren’t money on the line? It’s practically a rhetorical question, the answer thus contradicting part of the FSTA’s defense of its craft, highlighted in the section of its website “Why Fantasy Sports Is Not Gambling”: “Fantasy sports players are motivated to enter the hobby for reasons that have nothing to do with money or prize. … Surveys continue to show fantasy sports players do not show the negative/compulsive behaviors associated with gambling, where the motivation to gamble is overwhelmingly focused on winning money or prizes.” Daily sites do offer free games, but in them the player’s goal is to win either money or entries in other contests that provide opportunities to win money. It’s a dubious discrepancy.

This is Shandler’s singular concern about single-day competitions’ longevity. “I just worry that some ambitious legislator … ‘We set this definition down in 2006, but we left some parts out, let’s fix this.’ Then we run into a problem.”

Barton is similarly wary. “Daily fantasy, I think, is skirting the edge. I’m not saying I want to see it become illegal. I don’t really have a problem with it,” he says. “To me it’s just bizarre that some things are legal and some are illegal. It’s kind of splitting hairs, I think, to say daily fantasy’s a game of skill and picking an individual game is not.”

If policymakers are convinced that daily fantasy games, at minimum, push the limits of legality, wait until they get a load of live play. The FSTA will surely desire to persuade Fanamana to alter the language in some of the business’ promotional text. “Bet, play & win while MLB games are in-progress” includes one word from which the trade group has worked hard to distance its members. The contest itself isn’t exactly “based on the outcome of the score of games or the single performance of an individual athlete in a single, real-world event,” but it’s close. And akin to live wagering, which is offered by many popular sports books.

Those all seem like fair points. There’s also a subdivision of career gamblers in the sports betting populace. This faction, like that of one-day fantasy players and experts, has adopted the application of advanced data analysis, as the WSJ article says. Probably for a lot longer, in fact. For the initiated, sports wagering is regarded as a conquerable domain. Some might even call it a game of skill.

Isn’t sports gambling, then, distinctly different from card contests or, at least, purer games of chance? True, poker, black jack, etc., are considered “beatable” games, because card counting is technically above-board, as long as the gambler doesn’t use a foreign device to keep the tally. But casinos will give a player the boot if they discover, or believe that one is, tracking the deck. Furthermore, a systematic method to determine with significantly greater accuracy where a roulette ball will settle or how many dots will show after a throw of the dice – without altering the equipment – exist only in theory, not practice.

We don’t have to leave the scrutiny to the amateurs. Forbes.com contributor Marc Edelman, an associate professor of law at the Zicklin School of Business (CUNY), has perhaps written more than any other authority on the legal status of fantasy sports at both the federal and state levels, including a paper titled “A Short Treatise on Fantasy Sports and the Law.” He’s perceived daily fantasy websites’ tolerance for risk as considerable. (Edelman has also addressed, specifically, the legality of your online fantasy baseball league. To sum: You’re probably safe from prosecution, but don’t assume that you’re in the clear.)

One of Edelman’s colleagues, about a year ago, questioned the sizable pledges to companies that specialize in one-day fantasy competitions. The column dealt a somewhat ominous quote: “Daily fantasy sports sites are using the ‘game of skill’ argument just like Poker sites,” according to a gambling law attorney named Mark Lavery. “Ultimately, that argument will fail.”

And we haven’t even probed the complications that casino lobbyists could create for the fantasy sports industry. “Could” is the operative word, however; it’s not entirely clear that Las Vegas and friends have collectively painted a target on the currently permissible hobby. Internet gambling has their attention, and at least some of the proposed legislation that would accomplish such a ban includes a carve-out for fantasy sports, as the UIGEA does. There’s support to sanction and regulate online wagering, too, so outlawing it is no sure thing. The FSTA has a lobby of its own and merely continues to monitor the situation. Moreover, some states have even delved into the legalization of some tiers of sports bookmaking.

At minimum, then, one-day fantasy games appear to have dodged a beanball or two. In actuality, they’re gaining momentum, beginning at the state level. Yes, pay-for-play fantasy sports contests have met illegitimacy in Arizona. Sure, opposition has greeted them in Kansas, which has since retreated a little through the use of revised, ambiguous language, although the effect on business in that state may be similar. Meanwhile, they have realized progress in the opposite direction in Illinois and Iowa.

The nation’s largest major professional sports leagues have entered territory they previously viewed as needlessly risky, as well. Major League Baseball has changed its stance on daily contests, and the league’s endorsement of them seems to be growing. The New York Times reported that MLB is, in fact, exploring a deeper union with DraftKings and the creation of other contests that carry cash rewards. And The NFL launched its own pay-to-play competitions, with memorabilia as trophies. These steps indicate that those associations have done their due diligence, and they appear to add striking support to fantasy sports’ position.

Additionally, a couple of mainstream destinations have embraced daily games. Sports Illustrated and USA Today, heretofore primarily content providers, have launched their own contests. It may be just a matter of time before the power players in the fantasy industry – ESPN, Yahoo! and CBS – throw some of their weight behind single-day competitions. Those giants have already decided to offer loot to players who place in their fantasy football leagues this year.

Such developments can only embolden inhabitants of the daily fantasy universe. Let’s face it: Money-plus-mass has discernible influence in politics and on regulation. And the daily folks had little fear prior to the arrival of those reinforcements.

Why does all this matter? It’s related to what we covered earlier: A halt of the quickly growing daily fantasy sector could be an issue for – not the death of, but an impediment to – the resources and incentives for the development of ideas for and financial viability of new games. There’s palpable evidence that the daily fantasy sports boom has provided fuel for the kind of innovation about which we speculate.

Conclusion

In the end, however, those kinds of resources may not be necessary. Before many of the competitions covered were viable, they were simply fun, and profit wasn’t their producers’ primary purpose. “The game was invented by an 11-year-old who loved statistics, who loved baseball, who loved the athletes,” says Strat-O-Matic’s maker, Richman.

Innovators in the industry are confident that they and their comrades will devise fresh games. Some of them already have. Granted, a truly newfangled contest seems likelier to come from the fringe, where marketability isn’t always part of the upshot. And something completely original is probably no longer possible. “Everything’s a hybrid of something else,” notes Shandler.

Meanwhile, high-stakes competitions and daily fantasy companies should continue to churn out contests comparable to previous favorites, with twists, to keep players coming back. “As game operators, we’ve got to be creative, we’ve got to continue to find new ways to play,” says Ambrosius. As long as finances are plentiful, they should be successful.

The highest hurdle for the pace of that progress is likely to be of a legal nature. The industry has some leverage there, too, conversely. Barton, perhaps only half-jokingly, uncorks an ultimate storyline. “Maybe someone will say, ‘I’m going to make friends around the country. I’m going to dedicate my congressional career to making online poker legal.’ That would probably get him a lot more votes than making fantasy illegal.”

One detail appears definite: Demand will endure. “Eighty percent of fantasy sports players believe they will still be playing in 10 years, and 40 percent believe they will play until they die,” declared FSTA president Paul Charchian in a June press release, citing May survey results from the market research firm Ipsos. And fantasy baseball players love their chosen games.

These contests may have a long way to go yet, then, including from the standpoint of lucrativeness. “I’ve been involved in the start-up space for seven years,’ says Bough, “and the one thing I can say about it is that there’s always the question of how far can you take something, and what is the limit of it. And fantasy, gratefully, still has a lot of upside, I think, all over the place.”

And he administers some pretty good advice.

“Never bet against innovation.”

(Full Disclosure: FanGraphs, parent company of The Hardball Times, has a promotional relationship with FanDuel and DraftKings.)

References & Resources


Nicholas Minnix oversaw baseball content for six years at KFFL, where he held the loose title of Managing Editor for seven and a half before he joined FanGraphs. He played in both Tout Wars and LABR from 2010 through 2014. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasMinnix.
newest oldest most voted
Tom Hanrahan
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Tom Hanrahan

SUPERB article! Covered many facets, interviewed key innovaters, asked important questions. Beautiful job!

From a SOM and Scoresheet buff

mark f
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mark f

NM

Nicely done.

Just for fun, do you know which of your fellow writers has written a number of times on the “other” baseball simulation that has been running parallel with Strat? I will give you a hint that APBA is the other game…

mf

Allen Shock
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Allen Shock

APBA predated Strat by 10 years.

Phil Grabar
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Phil Grabar

APBA, still going strong, a stats based board and computer baseball game, started in 1950 – long before Strat-o-matic.

Allen Shock
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Allen Shock

technically started in 1951 with cards based on the 1950 season.

Swfcdan
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Swfcdan

HECK of an article. When I have an hour to read it I will do!

Jim
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Jim
I really wish Scoresheet had public leagues where you could put up cash to win at the end of the season. Their game is way more realistic than daily or even season long roto games. Setting the batting order and pitching rotation along with defense being factored in really sets it apart. It just makes it a much more enjoyable game. Plus, a skillful owner in Scoresheet has a much better chance of winning than an expert daily game player. But here is the kicker, daily games charge rake or juice every day making it very hard for the player… Read more »
Marcel Kruse
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Marcel Kruse

Baseball is one of the many fascinating sporting activities in online betting industry. Nevertheless, not many take pleasure in participating in baseball wagering because, to name a few sports, baseball is best to handicap, meanings that, more money making chances. Not a very attractive prospect for hard-core bettors. Right here are free wagering tips which are very effective for all level sports bettors.