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They're afflicted by fantasy football fever

September 03, 2009|Diane Pucin

On a Sunday afternoon in August, a group of 10 men and one woman ranging in age from 23 to 56 gathered in a room called the Skybox on the second level of the ESPN Zone at L.A. Live and spent two hours conducting an NFL fantasy draft.

To reserve the room, these members of the "Weekend Warriors" fantasy league were required as a group to spend $150 on food and drink (come on, this group had inhaled platters of chicken wings in about a minute, enough to carpet a room). But parking was validated and wireless was free.

On two screens mounted in either corner of the room, the league's commissioner, Jeff Barlam, registered each pick.

And when Manny Ramirez botched an outfield play there was a collective groan in the room. "This is better than Vegas," Barlam said of the setup. "More TVs. We're not missing anything."

As the NFL season approaches, these 10 members of the "Weekend Warriors" are making personnel moves as if they are general managers -- crunching numbers off the Internet, sometimes flipping the pages of chicken-wing-stained magazines such as Lindy's and Pro Football Weekly in an old-fashioned attempt to win a (relatively) newfangled game.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, September 04, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Fantasy football: In Sports' football preview section Thursday, an article on the boom in fantasy football misidentified a new company that specializes in fantasy football products as One Sports. It is called the Open Sports Network.

They are not alone.

Using websites such as ESPN, Yahoo Sports, Fox Sports, CBS Sportsline, and NFL.com, gathering at sports restaurants or in living rooms or online, an estimated 30 million people are involved in NFL fantasy leagues, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Assn.

So it is no surprise that there is a boom in online leagues, given the potential revenue. The FSTA estimates fantasy players already spend an average of $154 per season per person just for online football reports.

Eileen Sweeney, a 33-year-old secretary from Los Angeles, is in a Yahoo-based league called "Purple Reign" and has played for "five or six years."

The league had its draft Friday it Santa Monica. Sweeney's team is the "Irish Car Bombs" (named after a bar drink) and this year her most prized draft pick is Maurice Jones-Drew.

"I'm hooked," said Sweeney, who won in her first season and spends five hours a week prepping for games.

Another indication of the growing popularity of fantasy football came last weekend when ESPN joined with House Party Inc. to put on about 1,000 draft parties around the country for the winner of a House Party drawing. ESPN reportedly spent a sum in the low-six figures with a hoped-for payoff of more participants in its online fantasy football games.

Paul Gagliardi, a 26-year-old accountant from Thousand Oaks, is with the "Weekend Warriors" and named his team "Vick's Terriers" -- and, no, political correctness is not part of the fantasy world.

"I probably spend five or six hours a week leading up to the draft figuring things out," Gagliardi said. "During the season, probably a little less. But not much."

Mike Levy, a founder of CBS Sportsline, last year launched "One Sports." As Levy describes it, "A place where I try to come up with the best fantasy products out there."

He said his company will have three ways to play, all tied to Fox NFL television broadcasts starting Sept. 10, the first week of the regular season.

"We'll have 'Fox Fantasy Football,' which is a year-long, commissioner-type league," Levy said. "The second is the 'Quick Challenge Salary Cap,' which is a little different because people will have to stay under a certain salary cap.

"The third will be 'Fox Fantasy Live.' It will be a real-time game. You will be able to make substitutions. You will see capsules of all eight games going on at a time. This will combine the talents of people who have deep NFL knowledge and great video gaming skills. You'll have to make a decision every five seconds."

David Geller, director of fantasy sports for Yahoo, said the website held practice draft sessions in the off-season. The site had the capacity to accommodate 20,000 users per day per session but, Geller said, "We could barely meet the demand."

Last season, Yahoo put on the online show "Fantasy Football Live" on Sunday mornings, an hour before the first kickoffs. "We averaged 250,000 viewers per week," Geller said. "For an online show, those are pretty big numbers."

EA Sports' "Fantasy Football" has added live scoring applications and players who have video gaming capability will be able to incorporate the "Madden NFL 09" game and see a full screen of rosters, get live scoring and utilize a picture-in-picture mode.

There is even insurance available in case a team's player is injured in real life. It's called Fantasy Sports Insurance and it is the brainchild of Henry Olszewski, an insurance agent and fantasy player who was badly affected last year by the injury to New England quarterback Tom Brady.

"The idea just popped into my head," said Olszewski, who put together a list of the statistically 50 best players in the NFL and that's how many players can be insured. If you call up the website, fantasysportsinsurance.com, you will see a photo of the injured Brady.

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