Yahoo, ESPN, CBS Offer Updates On The Uncertain Fantasy Sports Industry
Tens of millions of fantasy players across the U.S. are waiting for a return to normalcy, when we . [+] can see players like Mike Trout take the field. Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
March 18 was circled on my calendar for months.
It was supposed to be draft night for the Teen Man College Haters Club, the 16-team baseball keeper league I’ve been in for many years on Yahoo Fantasy Sports. But as time progressed and all the major sports suspended operations due to coronavirus, it became clear that I wasn’t going to be drafting my team anytime soon. The draft was rescheduled for May 5, and that date doesn’t look very promising either.
According to the Fantasy Sports & Gaming Association’s annual demographic survey, 19% of Americans participated in fantasy sports in 2019. So tens of millions of people like me are currently stuck without their fantasy sports fix for the foreseeable future.
The first canceled major event, the 2020 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, was a much larger blow to the betting industry, but major fantasy platforms like Yahoo, ESPN and CBS attract millions of entries to determine who’s got the best March Madness bracket. There were nearly 1.2 million entries for Yahoo’s tournament pick’em contest, competing for the $1 million prize.
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The NCAA men’s final four was supposed to be played at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but the . [+] entire tournament was cancelled due to coronavirus. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
March Madness never started or finished, making it easier to manage from a fantasy perspective. But for sports like the NBA and NHL that were in the middle of their respective seasons, it makes things more complicated and chaotic. Do you start with the playoffs? Wait for the season to resume and move from there? It’s a situation nobody’s really dealt with before.
Speaking on background, both ESPN and CBS said they’re looking at different scenarios on how to deal with the basketball and hockey seasons, perhaps even allowing leagues to form their own solutions for the 2019-2020 season. Essentially, both companies are in wait-and-see mode, just like basically every other American professional sports entity.
“It’s a tough time for a lot of industries, including the sports world,” said Geoff Reiss, the GM of Yahoo Sports at Verizon Media in an emailed statement. “At Yahoo Sports and Yahoo Fantasy we remain fully committed to serving our fans with the best user experiences, and I’m confident that the business we’ve built around fantasy and sports betting will withstand any challenges we are facing.”
Fantasy basketball platforms are still trying to determine league winners based on how the NBA . [+] resumes its season, if it does at all. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
Those challenges are manifold. In the Yahoo head-to-head baseball league I’m in, there’s always a 21-week regular season and three weeks of playoffs to whittle the eight postseason participants to one champion. We have no idea how many games or weeks the baseball season will have, and no fantasy application can act until MLB has any clue how its 2020 season will play out, if it does at all.
“Yahoo Fantasy has been around for 20+ years and has a long future in front of it,” Reiss said. “I’m proud of the work the team has been doing to further enhance the best fantasy experience in the industry.”
And while March Madness, MLB, NBA and NHL fantasy are important in their own way, Yahoo, ESPN and CBS would all acknowledge that fantasy football is by far their most important product. And like posting back-to-school ads in June or July and seeing Christmas shopping ads and displays in September, Yahoo already launched its 2020 fantasy football product “so fans were able to get started with the debates and conversations they love,” Reiss said.
Does it matter we have no idea whether the NFL will start its season on time? Evidently not.
Fantasy sports players and the platforms they compete on are hoping they can see Tom Brady in a . [+] Tampa Bay Buccaneers uniform in September. Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
It’s the uncertainty surrounding the NFL that likely causes the most concern for fantasy platforms, not to mention the constant content output from fantasy and daily fantasy-centric sites that rely on actual games to churn out their start/sit and waiver wire columns that avid fantasy football players crave.
“We see this as an opportunity to make our experience for fans even better,” Reiss said, “and we have a number of new features that we’ll be rolling out when sports resume.”
But until those sports resume, fantasy platforms and its tens of millions of players are like everyone else, playing a lonely game of wait-and-see, yearning for the days we can get back to drafts, late-game scratches, managers proposing ridiculous trades and complaining about a coach’s silly yet undeniably important substitution patterns.