Bloomberg Sports Kicks Off New Season of Fantasy Football

9/8/11Follow @jpruth

As the 2011 pro football season officially kicks off tonight, New York’s Bloomberg Sports hopes managers of fantasy teams will turn to the latest version of its Decision Maker software to help them choose their starting lineups. Backed by analytics developed by media and information services giant Bloomberg LP, Decision Maker aims to serve football fans who take their fun and games seriously.

Decision Maker is a Web and mobile app that, for a seasonal fee, lets users compare players they want to assign to their fantasy football teams. Unsure if Peyton Manning still has the arm to win the game, assuming he is healthy enough to play by Week 2? The app may offer some insight on his expected performance. “About 80 to 90 percent of people who use the tool just need that quick answer or guidance,” says Bill Squadron, head of Bloomberg Sports. The newest version of Decision Maker, released in late August, introduced a voting feature for users to share their opinions on the big games each week. “Fans like to express their own views and see what others think,” Squadron says.

Though some might dismiss the imaginary teams competing in virtual leagues, fantasy sports are growing as part of the fan experience, according to Squadron. According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, last year some 27 million adults Americans participated in fantasy sports. Squadron says fantasy football represents the largest segment of the market followed by fantasy baseball. Other sports such as golf, basketball, car racing, and hockey have fantasy leagues as well. “There is a lot of overlap because people will play multiple sports,” Squadron says. “This is a big industry and it’s growing quickly.”

The original Decision Maker app was released in 2010 and, according to Squadron, was more streamlined compared with the comprehensive Front Office fantasy baseball app also released by one-year-old Bloomberg Sports.

Squadron says though the Decision Maker app was developed for ease of use, it can provide deeper analysis of the risks and rewards associated with each player based on their real-world performance and the opponents they will face. “If you want to [add a player] having a big day, we’ll show you guys that have that kind of potential,” Squadron says.

Squadron says after Decision Maker was introduced last year it quickly found its way onto iPads and iPhones. “We did considerably better on our mobile platforms than we did online; we were happy with our Web sales but the mobile sales went through the roof,” he says. Squadron says casual fans are also joining fantasy leagues thanks in part to the accessibility offered through mobile devices. He still sees a robust market online with computer-based users. “Advertisers and sponsors are interested in working across all of these platforms,” he says.

Bill Squadron says a fantasy team draft tool is in the works for the 2012 NFL season.

The National Football League’s NFL.com and Major League Baseball’s MLB.com also offer the fantasy sports apps from Bloomberg Sports for download. Squadron believes there are more opportunities for Bloomberg Sports to serve other types of fantasy sports. “All of the major sports organizations are interested in growing their fan base, in particular reaching out to younger fans,” he says. Using digital media, he says, can be an integral part of that strategy. In addition to NFL.com and MLB.com, fantasy leagues can be found around the Web on sites hosted by Yahoo Sports, ESPN, CBS Sports, and others. Much of the competition provides its services to users for free, although some have premium offerings.

The spread of fantasy sports has also caught the attention of entrepreneurs. Dan Chaparian, co-founder of New York’s Football Verdict, says his company formed in May to provide advice tailored to each user’s fantasy team. “It’s very tough to find that from credible sources,” Chaparian says. Football Verdict, which is conducting an open beta test, offers crowdsourced answers to fantasy football questions posted by the users.

Even with a fragmented field of providers offering guidance to fantasy leaguers, Squadron believes Bloomberg Sports has an edge that is difficult to beat. “We think we have a major advantage on the analytical side because of what we’ve built for the financial market,” he says.

Prior to leading Bloomberg Sports, Squadron served as president of IP-Prime; the former IP television content distribution division of commercial satellite operator then known as SES Americom (now called SES World Skies). He previously co-founded and was CEO of Sportvision, which inserts content during televised programs such as the yellow first down line seen on-screen during football games.

Squadron says Bloomberg Sports plans to create new features for Decision Manager going forward including a full-fledged draft tool for the 2012 NFL season. “We have all the analysis; the only reason we didn’t do it for this season was the uncertainty associated with the lockout,” he says. The NFL labor dispute, which threatened to derail the 2011 season, ended on July 25.

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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