Roughly 35 million American adults now play fantasy sports, up 13 percent over 2010 totals, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. Seventy-five percent of them play fantasy football, and with the National Football League closing in fast on its 2012-13 campaign, that means fantasy gamers across the nation are gearing up for another season of virtual pigskin action, poring over a wealth of expert rankings and statistical forecasts to identify the superstars and sleepers destined for gridiron greatness this year. Millions of fantasy fanatics seeking a draft-day edge will turn to RotoWire: The 15-year-old site is now synonymous with real-time fantasy news, data and analysis, offering its own branded magazine, talk show and mobile apps in addition to providing content to partners including ESPN, Yahoo Sports, Fox Sports, NFL.com, Sports Illustrated and Sirius XM Radio.
With fantasy gaming shifting from the desktop to smartphones and tablets, RotoWire recently launched its Fantasy Football Draft Kit 2012 app for Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS and Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android. Now in its fourth year, the $4.99 app boasts rankings and season outlooks for hundreds of NFL players as well as historical stats, team depth charts, real-time news and analysis and a wealth of related information, all customizable according to each user's individual league and draft rules. RotoWire also offers a number of additional free and premium apps spotlighting professional baseball and basketball as well as collegiate sports. FierceDeveloper contributor Jason Ankeny spoke to RotoWire president Peter Schoenke about mobile's impact on fantasy gaming, the firm's apps and the value of meaningful content.
Peter Schoenke on RotoWire's origins: We've been around since 1997. We were real innovators in the fantasy space--we were the first to bring real-time fantasy content to the web, the first to do custom stats and the first to do SMS delivery. We've always kept on the cutting edge, and we make sure that everyone who signs up for our service maxes out on the information and articles we offer them.
Schoenke on fantasy gaming's transition to mobile devices: Mobile is having a big impact--we're seeing behaviors migrating quickly from the PC to tablets and other mobile devices. It's still a small percentage of users that are using devices to manage their teams and drafts, but the number is growing quickly and it's changing how the game is played. We're seeing that change with our customer base--they're downloading our apps so they can get fantasy news everywhere they go. If you want information on the results of [San Diego Chargers running back] Ryan Mathews' MRI, you can look that up on your phone.
People used to go their league drafts with a fantasy football magazine and a pen and paper--now they're coming in with iPads. Mobile devices are also second and even third screens while they watch games on Sundays. It makes fantasy gaming so much more accessible when you can do it in different places and at different times. Your window for going online and checking stats is a lot wider now--you can track information when you're at the store, or watching your kids play soccer, or wherever you are. The flipside is that you tend to get sucked in even more. You're constantly managing your team.
Fantasy Football Draft Kit 2012 includes a player search that allows you to quickly find players.
Schoenke on Fantasy Football Draft Kit 2012: This is our fourth year. We did the first one back in 2009--we were early to get stuff on iOS devices. The biggest thing this year is that we increased the number of categories and the amount of customization--we project everything now. We can project the number of kick returns for touchdowns, 300-yard passing games, and whatever else you're looking for.
The biggest challenge for us is the real estate--we can make our webpages really wide, but when you try to take that same page of information and bring it to an iPad or iPhone, it becomes a lot more difficult. So we've focused on the most important stats. If you're taking your iPad to your draft, we give you a cheatsheet with the highlights and all the most pertinent information for each player and what you can expect from them this year. We throw in all the stats that are good leading indicators--for example, how many times was a wide receiver targeted last season? How many times were they targeted in the red zone? Were last year's stats fluky? Those kinds of numbers and trends are so important. Where we really stand out is on the content side. We have a big team of guys and girls putting in a lot of information, and you're always getting fresh news and updates.
Fantasy apps haven't seen any huge technological breakthroughs around geolocation like in other categories of apps--for now, we're taking advantage of opportunities like breaking news alerts. The next wave of fantasy apps could see all kinds of different stuff, but for now, the experience is about untethering users from the desktop.
Schoenke on RotoWire's mobile business model: Our business is built around our pay site. Back in 2001, we went from all-free to all-pay, and it worked out great. We've always been advocates of the pay model. People will pay for something that gives them a competitive advantage, and those revenues help us put more back into our product. Now we're seeing that people are willing to pay for content on their mobile devices as well.
Rotowire's apps feature cheat sheets that ranks players based on projected stats for 2012 using your league's settings.
Schoenke on RotoWire's plans for the 2012 NFL regular season: We have a new product called Fantasy Football Assistant. It's an in-season app to help you manage your team. You can import rosters from all sites where players host their leagues, like Yahoo Sports and ESPN.com, in one-click. You also get access to RotoWire information like weekly projections, cheatsheet rankings, articles on [which players] to pick up, key matchups--all that stuff to help you for the upcoming week.
It's a separate app, and it'll be $9.99 for the season. You get a lot for a little bit of money. It's launching sometime soon--the iPhone approval process seems to get slower and slower. The biggest problem we've had with these apps is working with Apple. It's frustrating at times.
Schoenke's advice for aspiring fantasy sports app developers: You gotta have good content. That's the key more than anything else. There are lots of apps with player rankings and that kind of stuff, and apps with interesting technology. But each one lives and dies on the quality of its content. There are so many generic sports apps out there--you download them, and they have cool functionality and cool chat things or whatever, but if the content isn't great, they're not going to succeed.
Schoenke's advice for fantasy football dominance: If you're a beginner, make sure you know your league's scoring system. If you're doing fantasy for the first time, you need to understand there are real players whose game may not translate into fantasy. I always use the example of [Dallas Cowboys Hall of Famer] Troy Aikman--he was a great quarterback, but he never had good stats. Some quarterbacks on teams with terrible defenses who are on the field more often can be great on fantasy teams. So be sure to understand your league's scoring and player projections. If you're an experienced fantasy football player, you want to do that, too. Sit down and study--that's the biggest mistake people make. They haven't studied the system.
I still play a ton--I'm in at least 10 fantasy football leagues a year, and between 35 and 40 leagues a year across all different sports. It's fun.
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