It's the midway point of the National Football League's regular season, and general manager Ron Carey spends hours each week tweaking lineups of the teams he runs. Is he a high-profile executive in the NFL? Nope, he's a fantasy football player.
Industry estimates suggest there are 13 million to 15 million fantasy football players across the country, mostly grown men willing to pay Web sites like Yahoo!, ESPN (owned by Disney, which is the parent company of ABC News) and CBS Sportsline for the chance to draft a team of players who score points based on their statistics in NFL games. And now businesses are finding that many, like Carey, are willing to invest a little extra to get an edge on their competitors.
Carey is a statistics buff and a football fanatic, a combination that has led him to spend thousands of dollars on fantasy leagues over the past 12 years. He currently manages three teams, totaling $250 for entry fees, and he runs one league. He scours Web sites all week looking for information about players that might give him an edge.
"I'm in contention most years, and I attribute that to the fact that I keep up to date on all the information," Carey said.
With that goal in mind, he shells out $25 every year to get statistical information and advice from the fantasy football Web site FootballGuys.com.
FootballGuys is one of a number fantasy sites that offer player information and expert advice to fantasy owners. Their information is styled to attract fanatics like Carey whose passion for their fantasy teams knows no financial boundaries.
"If there are 15 million people playing fantasy football, we can subsist off just a tiny slice of that," said Joe Bryant, co-owner of FootballGuys.com
As the popularity of fantasy gaming has grown the past several years, businesses offering peripheral fantasy services have sprouted up, often run by fantasy players who found their interest in the games made good businesses.
Bryant and his partner, David Dodds, started FootballGuys in 1999 as a free service that offered fantasy "cheat sheets," newsletters that organized information about player injuries and matchups for each week's games. The two were acquaintances and longtime fantasy players who were looking for more information than they found on traditional sports Web sites.
"I saw a need for a product I couldn't find myself," Bryant said. "It was really just a hobby, but with an eye on a possible business future."
Many services like FootballGuys and competitors like KFFL.com and TheHuddle.com charge fees for access to their information. FootballGuys operated free for several years and started charging users in 2002. Since then, Bryant and Dodds have advertised in fantasy magazines and even put out their own magazine ahead of this year's NFL season.
They've seen traffic and readership increase about 10 percent to 15 percent every year. FootballGuys has 60,000 registered members on a free mailing list, and many of those members are also paying customers, Bryant said. They now employ a part-time paid staff of about 60 contributing writers, and FootballGuys has become a full-time job for Bryant and Dodds.
"We operated free for a few years to set our name in the market and basically operated at a net loss for a couple of years," Bryant said. "Now, we've found a niche in the marketplace, and we've operated in the black for the last two years."