The massive Facebook social networking website is sporting an embedded fantasy football league among its many applications, thanks to blackjack ace Jeff Ma (35), an MIT grad who was involved in the real card counting group that recently was the subject of the movie "21" and the best-selling book "Bringing Down the House."
Hoping to introduce a younger generation to the game of fantasy football, Ma and his primary business partner, Mike Kerns, have launched a program that enables the leagues to be managed within the popular social networking website. The duo reason that fantasy sports are ideally suited for online socialising because the leagues are typically formed by groups of friends looking to deepen their bonds.
USA Today reports that nearly 100 000 people had downloaded the program through August 6 after just a few weeks on Facebook. Interest is expected to intensify this month as more fantasy football players hold their drafts before the NFL season starts September 4, the newspaper predicted.
Ma's company, Citizen Sports, has partnered with the respected and popular Sports Illustrated magazine to create the new Facebook league, opening up the product to its millions of users. For Sports Illustrated, it's management's first venture into the fantasy football genre, which in the past has been dominated by Yahoo.com, ESPN.com and CBS Sportsline.
Yahoo's, fantasy football site drew 6.6 million U.S. visitors in the opening month of the season last year, followed by ESPN.com at 2.6 million visitors, according to comScore Inc.
Sports Illustrated is owned by Time Warner, and will be providing content for Citizen Sports' fantasy football program, handling all the advertising sales and promoting the service in its print edition and website.
"We think this can change the fantasy landscape," said Jeff Price, president of Sports Illustrated's digital operations. "The switching costs for people to leave a league to come over to another site is a significant hurdle," he continued, saying he believes it will be easier for Citizen Sports because having its program run on Facebook, where millions of people already spend hours every day, "brings fantasy football to the player instead of having the player come to you."
Sports Illustrated already has sold season-long sponsorships for Citizen Sports' Facebook fantasy program to AT&T and the sporting goods chain Finish Line. The magazine's sales force is hoping at least 250 000 people participate in the Facebook fantasy league during the first season, Price told USA Today.
Ma's Citizen Sports is projecting at least a sevenfold increase in revenue this year, bolstered by the new fantasy football program along with other existing social network applications built to help people follow their favorite professional, college and high school teams in a variety of sports.
Citizen Sports' financial backers include former venture capitalist Kevin Compton, who owns the National Hockey League's San Jose Sharks, and Jeff Moorad, a former sports agent who owns Major League Baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks.