These days, freebies are few and far between in football fantasyland. Games and services on the Web are increasingly coming with a price tag. Over the past few years, the Pittsburgh League, an eight-team fantasy football league (this writer, a team owner, calls the shots from Boston), has hopped from RotoWire to SportsLine and now Yahoo in search of free fantasy field time.
After offering its service for free the last two seasons, SportsLine.com is now charging $139.95 per league for its Web-based fantasy league management package called Football Commissioner. Peter Pezaris, vice president of product development at the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based sports media company, says the company generated $1.5 million with its fee-based fantasy baseball product in the summer. He expects football?its bread-and-butter product?to beat that two or three times over. He realizes, however, that many of SportsLine’s 4 million registered users would rather sit on the sidelines than pony up. “The reality is that when you go from free to paid, you’re going to have some attrition,” Pezaris says. “If we retain anywhere near 50 percent, we’ll be very pleased.”
Many sites such as Sportingnews.com offer tiered services, says Erik Barmack, general manager for fantasy sports at The Sporting News. The hope is that features like live scoring and newsletters will attract more paid customers. “The business value is having that person move up to a premium-level game, play it, like it and then keep him in the system for many seasons,” Barmack says.
Fantasy players have to recognize that free sites are becoming a thing of the past, according to Michael Nazarek, owner, publisher and webmaster for FFMastermind.com, a website dedicated to fantasy news and advice that offers subscription-based services. “The days of free fantasy football on the Web are dwindling,” Nazarek says. “If you’re not willing to pay $10 to $12 per team for a site to run your league, that’s just plain cheap.”