Not this year. With the NFL lockout in its 77th day, ESPN The Magazine has postponed its annual fantasy football guide, which would have appeared on newsstands and in 2 million mailboxes in early June, at a loss of millions in advertising revenue, according to one industry analyst. Other giant content providers, such as Sports Illustrated, are holding out, hoping to publish when the lockout ends.
Sports bars that count on fantasy draft parties for revenue stand to lose thousands of dollars, as do hotels in places such as Las Vegas that host more elaborate fantasy football gatherings.
“In a word, there’s a fair amount of anxiety because the football season generates more revenue than the rest of the sports combined for most of our member companies,” said Paul Charchian, president of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, whose membership includes all the industry’s flagship brands and then some. “While most people remain pretty optimistic that there won’t be missed time, missed games or, in a worst-case scenario, a missed season, it’s still made things complicated.”
Kevin Ota, director of communications for ESPN digital media, said postponing the guide was an editorial decision. “If and when things straighten themselves out, the data and the information that would go into that publication would be out of date, inaccurate or otherwise,” he said. Diana Pohly, president of the Pohly Company, a Boston-based media consultant, estimated that ESPN could lose $3 million to $4 million in ad revenue.
Speculation on hold
There is no measuring the apathy and disappointment of the game’s rabid followers, who put together their own “teams” and win or lose each week based on the on-field performance of actual NFL players. With each passing day of the work stoppage, the offseason pursuit of evaluating players’ fantasy value becomes almost pointless. Will Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s stock rise, say, if the team acquires a quarterback such as Donovan McNabb? It’s not worth speculating yet, fans say.
And that means some are holding onto their money as well.
Mike Nguyen, a senior sales manager who lives in Springfield, wrote in an e-mail that his fantasy football budget is “on the shelf” until the lockout is settled. By this time, Nguyen usually has paid for access to Rotowire.com, one of the more comprehensive sites around, to begin his research.
“This season, what’s the point?” he wrote.
Other leading fantasy football guides, including Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports, remain committed to regularly scheduled publishing. Then there’s Athlon’s, another of the industry’s most recognized fantasy football annuals, which is in a holding pattern, although Managing Editor Mitch Light confirmed in an e-mail that the magazine intends to publish shortly after the lockout ends. Athlon has not made a decision as to whether it will publish if the lockout stretches into September.