The Verdict: Yahoo is endangering fantasy sportsby Michael Stein
February 01, 2011
Over the past 30 years, the fantasy sports industry has transformed from a taboo hobby into an American institution. Going from pen and paper to the web has facilitated remarkable growth and prosperity for just about every aspect of the fantasy sports business. It has transformed from being a small blurb in the Sunday newspaper to having hours of dedicated programming on television, radio and the internet.
In fact, the fantasy sports industry was one of nine selected by Entrepreneur magazine as being insulated from the current economic recession. With more than 28 million Americans playing fantasy sports and the industry generating more than $3 billion in revenue, it seems like the fantasy sports industry is impervious to anything. However, the keys to the industry’s success are keeping its current participants playing and appealing to new potential customers.
Yahoo is one of the biggest fantasy sports entities in the world, providing several services and products that have been the standard of the industry since starting on the internet almost 20 years ago. Yahoo has historically been very creative and innovative in its fantasy sports commissioner services, offering highly customizable features and a variety of bonus services.
However, it is one of Yahoo's newest features that prompts this article. It is so disturbing, I immediately thought it could be the beginning of the end for fantasy sports as we know it.
No, I am not saying the business and industry will crumble tomorrow or that millions of people will stop playing. But the industry has been infallible and continually prosperous, so at some point the law of averages will catch up and a downward trend will set in. It just has to at some point, right? This Yahoo product could be that impetus.
I don't intend for this article to be a “gloom and doom” scenario for all of fantasy sports. The current NFL labor strife and the league's uncertainty are the biggest threats today to most of the fantasy sports industry. My point is that Yahoo’s newest service could change the way people perceive fantasy sports and the way they play it.
People participate in fantasy sports for myriad reasons: enjoyment of sports, common activity and socializing with friends and family, desire to win money and prizes, hobby, distraction from work and home, etc. While it is competitive in nature, it is still all in good fun because there is nothing at stake other than bragging rights and some money (usually an amount people can afford to lose).
I am a staunch advocate for innovation and creativity in fantasy sports. I run Fantasy Judgment and seek to convince the world that having a dispute resolution service as part of a fantasy league is an absolute necessity. When new products, services or features are added to fantasy league host sites, I usually embrace them as a symbol of progress. But I have my limits.
So after that lengthy introduction, what am I talking about? Recently, I got an email from a friend who is a student at New York Law School and runs a great blog called The Sports Tomato. The email directed me to a page about Yahoo’s fantasy baseball products called “What’s New.” As of January 2011, Yahoo has added a feature called “Manager Rating” to its fantasy products, specifically baseball. According to Yahoo:
"Manager Ratings will enable you to rate other managers in your league (Positive, Neutral, or Negative) and provide a short comment about your experience playing with them."
Okay, that might not sound so bad on its face. The next few paragraphs are taken directly from Yahoo:
Why should I rate other managers in my league?
These ratings will provide future potential league mates a good idea of what to expect when playing with other managers. Rating your fellow managers positively is a way to express your gratitude for an enjoyable experience and to help spread the word about fun people to play with.
Should I leave neutral or negative feedback?
Ratings and comments become a permanent part of a manager's profile. If you have an issue with a fellow league manager, we encourage you to first contact them directly to try to resolve the issue. Other potential remedies include contacting your league's commissioner or utilizing the league's message board.
If all else fails, you can choose to give a neutral or negative rating to that manager. However, please make sure that your comments are fair and are based in fact.
Can I edit a rating or comment after I've submitted it?
No, all ratings and comments are final and cannot be changed once submitted, so please be thoughtful in your ratings.
You may be thinking that I am overreacting and wondering how this will contribute to the possible downfall of the fantasy sports industry. You may think I am jumping to conclusions and refusing to give this new feature a chance. You may even think this is the greatest new idea since OPS became an acceptable statistic. Well, you may be right on any of those accounts. But what if you’re not?
Here is an analogy: Yahoo is Skynet. Skynet is the network of computers in the "Terminator" movie series that gains control over all machines and electronics to destroy the human race. Once Skynet gained control of the government's military and defense programs, it launched nuclear bombs at all targets, prompting retaliatory strikes and causing the deaths of billions of people. Essentially, Skynet was the puppet master as it sat back and watched humans destroy themselves.
Here, Yahoo is pulling the strings of fantasy sports players by giving them the means of attacking each other with the ratings system. Granted, there will not be an exchange of nuclear weapons or mass genocide, but the point is that the wheels have been set in motion for people to take the competition to whole new level.
People who play fantasy sports have their own style. Some people spend six hours a day reading material on websites and magazines when preparing for a draft. Some people like to make trades every week and send out proposals to other league managers on a daily basis. Some people like to play in keeper leagues where they trade off current talent in exchange for future potential talent. Some people simply stay quiet and have no interaction whatsoever with other league members.
As long as people pay their entry fees, they are entitled to run their own teams any way they want as long as they stay within the rules of that league. Styles and personalities may clash, but people generally accept that not everyone operates the same way.
Giving people the means to write commentary about other league members that becomes a permanent mark on their Yahoo profile is destructive. That is not to say that a negative comment on someone’s manager profile is going to inhibit his ability to buy a car or apply for a job. But this scenario can completely change the dynamic among league members, including people who know each other and those who do not.
This is what frightens me into thinking there could be a slippery slope. Once people have motivation and justification for attacking each other in this forum, the very fabric of fun competition becomes unraveled. Playing fantasy sports is a hobby, not a career. As much as people enjoy doing it, no one is playing fantasy sports as their sole source of income.
So the ability to retain people in fantasy sports leagues is somewhat delicate because there is no reliance on it for survival or well-being. Avoiding the irritation of dealing with negative ratings or comments could cause people to just stop playing fantasy sports. There is enough stress in life with family, work, and health; there is no place in most people's lives for added stress and degradation in a hobby.
I don't know the numbers, but a certain percentage of fantasy sports players join public leagues comprised of people they do not know. There are typically no restrictions to doing this. However, if people have negative feedback in their profiles, they could be prevented from joining public leagues—in other words, blacklisted. At the very least, owners in a public league would not welcome a person with such negative ratings.
Why would someone give a negative rating in the first place? There will always be that one person in a fantasy league who has something to say about everyone and everything. If a league member felt another owner made bad trades, it could lead to a negative rating. Failure to respond to a trade proposal could do the trick as well.
How about missing a deadline to activate a player or take an injured player out? The appearance of indifference or incompetence is another motivation to ding someone. What about just doing it to be spiteful? There are multiple reasons why someone would leave negative feedback.
So what is the big deal? It sounds quite childish, but the natural reaction would be to return the favor and leave negative feedback or comments about the other person. And then where does it end? This permanent scarring of one member profile is not going to ruin anyone’s life—I acknowledge that.
But it can taint the reputation of someone who tried to join public leagues with people they don’t know. It could influence others in the league to treat someone with a negative rating badly. It could lead to the league commissioner not welcoming that person back to the league the next year. It could lead to the disintegration of relationships, as well as the league itself.
It could lead to a mutiny if the league commissioner does not rule on issues or trades appropriately, and then his fellow league members leave negative comments, thus, in effect, giving the commissioner a vote of no confidence. Overall, it can lead to personal, internal battles among league owners that cause major rifts within a league and shift the focus from fantasy sports to middle school pettiness.
Instead of trying to win games and defeat your opponents by drafting better teams, making effective trades, and making intelligent decisions with your roster, people would devolve into teenagers trying to sabotage each other.
This is not like eBay where feedback and ratings are truly important because you are dealing with buyers and sellers whose reputations are necessary to instill confidence when choosing to do business with them. There are also protective measures in place with eBay to ensure that proper payment is made and that delivery of products is completed.
In fantasy sports, there are no guarantees or assurances that leagues will be run smoothly and fairly, or that everyone involved will always do the right thing. Granted, companies like LeagueSafe.com and FantasySportsMarket.com provide financial protection for league fees. However, most people and most leagues do not take advantage of such services.
That is why the Supreme Court of Fantasy Judgment strongly advocates that people play fantasy sports and join leagues with people they know. There needs to be some trust factor involved, especially when dealing with money. If people typically played in leagues with people they know to some extent, there is no need for any type of permanent feedback or commentary.
I do give Yahoo credit for continuing to develop new ideas and concepts. But I don’t think Yahoo realizes the slippery slope that this new feature could create. Once you change or alter the focus of fantasy sports’ competitive nature, you give people the detonator to their own fantasy bomb.
Yahoo at least does encourage alternative forms of dealing with issues between league members before permanently writing negative feedback (although it neglected to suggest third party dispute resolution such as Fantasy Judgment).
But irrespective of that, I hope people are circumspect about choosing to use the "Manager Rating" feature. The Court’s verdict is that Yahoo users should resist the temptation to comment on their fellow fantasy players in any manner. Just go win and let that speak for itself.
The Court wants to hear your comments on whether you concur or dissent with the verdict by sending an email to michael.stein @ fantasyjudgment.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter @FantasyJudgment.
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