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How ESPN is winning the Fantasy Football War

September 14, 2009

Fantasy Football is estimated to be an 800-million dollar industry. And it’s skyrocketing in growth. (ESPN says its users are up more than 20% this year).

We’re quickly approaching a time when the top fantasy site will be a billion dollar brand. And unless something changes, that site will be ESPN.com’s.

First, I’ve been in a league since I got to college. And after five years of faithfully rejoining my Yahoo league (and 2 years of paying for live scoring updates), my league finally transferred to ESPN.

We couldn’t have made a better decision.

The interface looks like someone actually spent time on it! The Draft has sportscenter sound effects. The league offers free live scoring (which forced Yahoo to finally do the same). It’s just a much better product.

But it’s not just graphics that will win ESPN the Fantasy War. It’s the tactics the monolith is employing, tactics which should have already become standard operating procedure for media companies today! Here are the main reasons ESPN has begun to dominate the fantasy category.

1) Own every piece of whatever you do best. ESPN IS sports, at least to the average person: Where do you go when you’re looking for sports? ESPN. They have the most well-known fantasy personality (Matthew Berry), and a number of writers who play Fantasy. All of who are walking, writing, catchphrase using advertisements for ESPN fantasy usage. Why would you play in a Yahoo league when the  guy you set your lineups by has his own league?

ESPN probably learned this lesson by watching Sports Illustrated. SI could have bought ESPN. They didn’t. ESPN won’t make the same mistake with any competitive pieces.

This goes back to last week’s post about line extensions. ESPN is a sports brand. Fantasy is now one of the main drivers of the popularity of the NFL. So ESPN must have the best fantasy site. And they do.

2) Capitalize on Free: ESPN doesn’t charge for Live Scoring. That is a game-changer. And they needed it. Quite honestly, ESPN missed the boat on fantasy sports. Yahoo has been the brand leader for a long time. But ESPN took advantage of the shifting costs, and beat Yahoo the one place that it could really make an impact, Free Live Scoring.

That’s exactly what the book “Free” was telling companies to do. Use the shifting costs of digital distribution to, you know, disrupt your competition’s advantages. And just as Gmail forced email companies to offer more free storage, Yahoo has been forced to offer Free Live scoring as well.

3) Be cool. Really, when it comes down to it, ESPN Fantasy is cool. It’s slick, it has graphics, it has sound effects and celebrity sports people like Bill Simmon’s are playing it. And ESPN spent money for on-site talent/personalities, something Yahoo has never done. So ESPN will win any battle where there are hearts and minds. It’s the power of celebrity.

That’s the power of ESPN. Will Yahoo ever have an answer?

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Ben permalink
    September 14, 2009 5:33 pm

    You do know that Yahoo has free live scoring now too right?

  2. Red McCombs permalink
    September 18, 2009 7:28 am

    this is a terribly written and reasoned article.

    Oh my god. 8th grade term paper?

  3. Devin permalink*
    September 18, 2009 7:54 am

    Some people just can’t stop being loyal to Yahoo. We were there. Trust me, just try one of your leagues on ESPN…

  4. September 23, 2009 9:08 am

    besides Yahoo now having free-scoring, I consider ESPN’s user interface very confusing and I consider myself fairly adept at this internet thing. I’ve been in an ESPN league for 3 years now and continuously find it difficult to find useful stats and predictions for players from week to week. Yea, ESPN might be more graphic-y, but fantasy sports is not some dimwitted pursuit. I need details, weekly and seasonal predictions, easy to follow team names/users, easy to see scoreboards and match-ups, etc. Yahoo has honed their specialty and I intend to take advantage of it for as long as possible.

  5. Clark permalink
    October 23, 2009 12:41 pm

    ESPN is Great, but later on this year when I leave to go camping for the week of Thanksgiving I’ll either have to take a trip into the city mid week to set my lineup or give someone all my log in information to do it for me..
    Pretty lame that you can’t set a lineup for the following week using their interface!!

    • October 25, 2009 4:12 pm

      I agree with Clark. This is my first year trying out ESPN Fantasy Football and it is ridiculously horrible. You cannot set your team for future weeks (at least I have not figured out how to). The smack talking capabilities are limited at best. The home page is ugly, it takes like 3 clicks to get to your match up page. Your team name gets butchered as you must have a ‘location’ and team name. How stupid that is. Attempting to dissect stats in the free agent listings is horrible. I hate almost everything about ESPN fantasy football especially now that yahoo also offers free scoring. I do not think I will ever do an ESPN league again… it simply does not have the proper layout or statistical tools to properly research and maintain your team.

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