This is a glorious era for unabashed fantasy football dorks -- all 21 million or so of us, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. Say what you want about how the internet has revolutionized passive-aggressive communication and pornography, but it has similarly fueled the rise of fantasy football. When my more-competitive-than-law-school keeper league formed in the early '90s, we kept track of scores by hand and subsisted on the few morsels of information our local papers offered. Now, it's all online and it's all spectacular. On Sundays during the football season, I'll devote nearly as many hours to my league's live-scoring page as I will to the games themselves. Again: I spend a lot of time alone.
Listen up, marketers
What this means to you, fair marketers of fizzy domestic beer and seductive body sprays that smell like Windex and leave chemical burns in their wake, is that you know exactly where to find your target audience between August and December. We will be tending to our fantasy football teams. This is not a secret. And unless you're heavy-handed about it -- like Coors Light, which smothers football fans with pitches for a brand generally loathed by people with penises -- we'll reward you with our disposable income, especially if whatever you're selling is loud or salty.
Numbers-wise, the top fantasy football destinations are Yahoo, CBSSports.com (one of my employers, I should note), ESPN and NFL.com; all four do everything from proffer advice to house league sites to Simonize visitors' cars. Their popularity, however, has long since led big-name marketers to stake out most of the available turf. NFL.com's fantasy games, for example, are "presented by" Reebok, and its home-page polls have been tagged by Circuit City.
Marketers might have an easier in at the sites that cater to devotees but don't offer league-management tools. They're not exactly clutter-free -- more on that below -- but there's a wide berth here for guy-focused marketers of electronics, music, movies, vittles and pretty much everything else, except Coors Light.
Everything a football guy could want
Of the all-fantasy-football-all-the-time destinations, Footballguys.com offers the most of everything: the most columns, the most stat projections, the most customizable tools, you name it. There are analyses of offensive-line coaches, "studies" of each first-round fantasy draft slot ... I've been farting around with fantasy football my entire adult life and I wouldn't have thought of half the material Footballguys.com comes up with. These "guys" love "football," which probably explains the moniker.
Despite this, Footballguys.com doesn't appear to be on marketers' radars (at least not yet -- maybe things'll pick up closer to the start of the season). The home page features ads for fantasy games run by AOL's Fanhouse.com, MyFantasyLeague.com and CBSSports.com, and all three companies pop up elsewhere on the site. That's about it. Footballguys.com is subscription-supported, so perhaps the company is under minimal pressure to auction off its few spare strips of real estate. Advertisers, make the call now.
Footballguys.com's main challenger for fantasy-football dominance is the oppressively comprehensive The Huddle. While you gotta love the used-car salesmanship -- the site boasts that it has been "creating champions since 1997" -- The Huddle needs to declutter/decontaminate its home page before it can compete with Footballguys.com. Where the site has an advantage, though slight, is in its employment of David Dorey, who is a less screamy fantasy-football version of Jim Cramer. The Huddle is also subscription-supported, but I doubt they'd be averse to accepting some of those tasty Brazilian-Belgian Budweiser ad dollars.
Did someone say 'free'?
On a day-to-day basis, no fantasy football site is as much of a must-visit as Rotoworld.com's NFL players page. The concept isn't unique -- the site's minions troll local newspapers, then blurb up the relevant news -- but Rotoworld's presentation trumps that of the other 3,200 sites with the same idea. Additionally, as opposed to Footballguys.com and The Huddle, the NBC-owned Rotoworld doesn't stash any material behind a pay wall. As a result, it teems with marketing, of both the obtrusive (pop-ups? In this day and age?) and non-obtrusive variety (Allstate, Progressive and a very out-of-place tout for Petside.com's animal scrapbooks, which speaks volumes about the functionality of automated ad targeting).
I'd also like to direct fantasy acolytes and the marketers who love them to two intellectually inclined entities: The Football Scientist and Football Outsiders, which publishes the indispensable Football Prospectus handbook. Their appeal may be more limited than other fantasy football sites, because they delve deeply and seriously into the numbers and address their readers in full sentences (there's no "grab Bobby Engram hes gonna be awesom two TDs vs SanFran baby!!!1!!" here). Nonetheless, they're every-day destinations for football and fantasy addicts who like to think -- and yes, many such individuals exist. Not inside my living room, of course.
It's pretty simple, really. Guys like fantasy football. Fantasy football is custom-made for the internet. By my handy bastardization of the transitive property, then, guys like following fantasy football on the internet. Any marketer who can't crack this complex code oughta find another line of work.