The Verdict: Yahoo is endangering fantasy sports

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.

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Comments

  1. Kevin Wilson said...

    Not a big fan of you advertising your third party website in the article. It detracts from journalistic integrity. Analysis and self-promotion don’t mix.

  2. Julio said...

    How about this idea to make it work? It would take multiple negative ratings to actually show up on the “permanent record”. Maybe half the league members? At least that would provide a safety net, and not allow one immature a-hole (isn’t there usually one in every league?) to leave neg feedback for everyone else in the league. 

    Personally I despise managers who abandon their teams… Sometimes before the end of the first month! Arggggggg! With yahoo being free, it’s too easy to draft multiple teams and then orphan any (or all of them) that under-perform. That one issue is what drags yahoo fantasy sports down the most.

    If a manager rating system can address this, I say amen!

  3. Lars said...

    I’m on board with your complaint, but please, it wasn’t necessary to write 2,000 words. Almost 500 of them were before you even got to the point of the piece.

  4. Michael A. Stein said...

    Thanks for all of the great comments everyone.  Keep them coming. 

    Kevin – I felt it was necessary to explain my business with Fantasy Judgment to demonstrate that I am a proponent and supporter of added features and services to fantasy leagues, but that I specifically object to this particular Yahoo feature.  It was not intended to give a cheap plug, but rather to help provide a basis for my opinions.  Also, I do objectively believe that third party dispute resolution is a more viable method of handling internal league issues as opposed to utilizing the Manager Ratings.  Yahoo did not include that alternative on their site so I felt it was necessary to state it here, irrespective of my own interests.

    Lars – perhaps I could have gotten right to the issue a bit quicker, but I always like to provide detailed background and foundation for my arguments.  To make it up to you, I’ll give you a full refund for the time it took you to read those initial 500 words!

  5. Brad Johnson said...

    Seems like these kinds of comments would almost always be all noise, no signal. It would be more useful to institute a handful of 5 point questions. The only one I can think of off the top of my head would be along the lines of:

    “how active is owner X”

    with 1 being a guy who drafts his team and checks it no more than 3 times the rest of the year and 5 being a guy who spends a half hour a day memorizing the waiver wire and his opponents rosters. That would provide plenty of signal.

  6. Chris said...

    Brad:

    I actually like that idea a lot, it’ll show who’s got fantasy ADD and who’s a committed GM.

    Perhaps some other questions for the survey could include the topics of collusion, friendliness, aggressiveness (do they keep challenging everything the commissioner does), and knowledge of whatever fantasy sport they’re playing, add in a section for a comment and I think this actually becomes a really good idea.

  7. Fucilli Jerry said...

    Sorry, my attention span didn’t allow me to finish the article.  I don’t see any correlation between this “gimmick” yahoo has added,and the downfall of fantasy sports.

  8. Brad Johnson said...

    Glad you like the idea. It just strikes me as more useful to gather data rather than (probably random) comments. If the prompts are properly designed, very few people should walk away from the process with hurt feelings or be stressed in some other way.

    For any yahoo decision makers reading this, I have more ideas and I’m available for immediate employment. smile

  9. Brad Johnson said...

    Fucilli,

    I agree “downfall” strikes me as a bit of hyperbole, but the process that Yahoo outlines seemingly makes little sense on the surface. I think it’s fairly common knowledge that comment systems result primarily in complaints. People expect things to work – in the fantasy setting they expect their fellow owners to be present, do their due diligence before executing a trade, etc.

    Who is going to leave a comment about a fellow owner saying “I sent him a mediocre offer for Buster Posey and he smartly gathered offers from other owners and started a small bidding war.” Nobody. People will say “He verbally agrees to trades and then reneges and trades with a different owner for crappier players.” Or even just “terrible at negotiating trades”.

  10. kyle said...

    I see where this article is coming from. I would say that the yahoo gaming community will react to getting bad ratings by merely getting a new yahoo ID and starting anew. Although, the fact that they are permanent is a little odd, seems unnecessary. Friends are gonna be messing with each other, thats for sure.

  11. chris said...

    Kyle:

    I don’t know about you, but I want my championships to show on my Yahoo! profile, I worked hard to get them and would like to keep them there. Making a whole new profile means that my records are essentially lost.

  12. kyle said...

    chris, I hear you, but you won, it happened, having a record of it on yahoo doesn’t make it any more or less real. they are not lost as long as you remember it and others remember it. you still worked hard, you still won, no change in your fantasy profile should really matter all that much.

    I have a friend who won our league in 2002, a year that yahoo just sort of took off the books for some reason. I give him crap about never winning, but its all in good fun, I know he won, and so does he.

  13. Chris said...

    Kyle:

    But now I wont be able to brag to guys that haven’t seen my original profile without giving myself a black mark as well! lol. I totally see where you’re coming from, I just worry that in the case of private leagues we’ll see a rash of commissioners demanding to see the Yahoo! profiles that show the experience a person may claim.

  14. Lou Struble said...

    I agree that this could be a small problem but it’s not like Yahoo is passing a bill that is written in stone and can’t be changed.  I think it’s more likely that if this creates a problem it will either be gone by next season or modified in a way that gets rid of the problem. Yahoo’s motivation for these changes is to make fantasy sports a more enjoyable experience for their users.  It seems like they’re trying to police the managers that cause problems (dropping out mid-season, making horrible trades on purpose,etc.) It’s not like they’re getting any money out of this. This is the solution that they came up with.  If this idea bombs then they’ll go back to the drawing board because pissing off their fantasy players is bad business

  15. Brad Johnson said...

    How many of you are actually playing in leagues with completely random people (Yahoo public or public-invite leagues)? And if you’re playing in a public buy-in league, chances are nobody really cares what you do as long as you pay and don’t collude.

  16. Chris said...

    I am in two leagues established on Yahoo! and one that’s moving there soon. I don’t know any of the members personally, though some of the other GM’s know each other outside of the league.

    When you’re the lone baseball nut in your group of friends you find leagues on Yahoo! forums, Fantasy Baseball Cafe and Google.

  17. henry said...

    is this new offering mandatory or opptional? if mandatory then our league will go somewhere else.even though 80% of our league is the same managers(for football as well)for 10 years.new people are brought in every season.we all know most people are not working with the same personna in real life that they use when they are online.we’ve dealt with sore losers and personal grudges that have cropped up in the past.they were not invited back without stipulation and looming sanctions .we’ve been lucky to have unbiased and uncompromising commishs who dispense rulings, according to settings and our rules,stated fully before season starts, swiftly and firmly. we don’t need unwanted and unnecessary avenues of manager rankings when we have a message board to boast,rag on and tweak each other already.yahoo doesn’t need to try and interperet whether a persons comments on another manager are accurate or due to some non fantasy related conflict of interest or even just ballbusting.just let us play the game and stand back and watch,don’t tread on us with contrived machinations .work on accuracy in rankings,availability on waiver wire and user friendly options. thanx for taking time to read all this and excuse the misspellings

  18. Kevin Wilson said...

    The second plug was gratuitous. Your service is cool, but entirely unrelated to this. Your site is about individual incidents, not managers as a whole. I don’t begrudge success for you, I am just a journalism purist.

  19. Michael A. Stein said...

    Henry – the Manager Ratings feature is included with the Yahoo products but does not have to be utilized.  If you can get your league members to all agree not to use it, then it shouldn’t be problem.  I am not aware of any mechanism that will automatically generate a rating, so it is purely up to the users to decide whether to use it or not.

    Kevin – I appreciate where you are coming from and I respect that you have certain expectations.  My goal is not to gratuitously or un-objectively shill Fantasy Judgment.  However, I am writing from the perspective of a fantasy sports judge by identifying and discussing issues that can arise within leagues.  I have to use my own knowledge and experience as a guide when discovering potential disputes, analyzing the issues, and forecasting probable consequences.

  20. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Time to revive the Stop Snitchin’ campaign!

    I noticed this feature and am not a fan. I’m not as histrionic over it as Michael, but I think it does squarely deserve to be tagged a dumb idea.

    As far as abuse, I worry most about people using it out of spite. Particularly, I worry about less serious players “attacking” more serious players simply because they don’t see it as a big deal.

    The other thing worth mentioning – though Brad did call some attention to it first – is that systems like this, in practice, amplify the negative. Those with a gripe are much more apt to act to voice that gripe than those who are satisfied are to go through any extra effort just to say, “that guy is OK in my book.”

    I’d like to say that I would prefer a more formal system for ledging actual complaints against a fellow owner, just so that it ups the barrier needed to file a complaint. That alone would mitigate the amount of reactionary or prank feedback. But, at the end of the day, it’s so easy to just create multiple IDs that sidestepping any consequences of being poorly rated is so easy that it largely nullifies the very intent of the initiative.

    At the end of the day, I doubt the system will have much impact even if it functioned totally on the up and up, and therefore given the risk of use for unhealthy reasons, it just has way more downside than upside – in fantasy terms.

    If you are having problems with a league mate you should try to get those issues addressed via your commish. I’m advising my league mates to simply avoid using the tool.

    …Oh, and how much can one reasonably expect when playing a free league with stangers? If you’re friends, you should be able to handle a situation like this among yourselves. And, if you’re playing a free league with strangers, you should be aware of the risks of taking part in that league.

  21. Andy Everett said...

    Sorry Michael but this article seems an overreaction.  After all, it’s worked on eBay for long enough.

  22. Andy Everett said...

    (Remainder of post…!  Caught the Submit button.)

    Whilst I appreciate that has measures in place, it still has the possibility of an “eye for an eye” but this is very rarely seen.

  23. Edward said...

    I’m the commish of two Yahoo leagues and I will not add this feature to our leagues.  It seems to me to be a childish way of encouraging civil behavior.

  24. Jason Rugowitz said...

    Brilliant article.  This isn’t Ebay.  No one is being evaluated for sending a movie poster through the mail.  This is fantasy sports—a zero-sum game where winners to deserve to win and losers are apt to be a little pissed.  What’s stopping a bunch of low-end finishers from tagging the league winner with negative ratings?  The wrong people will be penalized for playing fantasy sports the right way.

    I’ve always been a fan of Yahoo, but they didn’t think this through.

  25. Jake in Columbus said...

    An interesting concept to limit deadbeat managers, but it is not without concern. In fairness to Yahoo!, it does state “The manager ratings will be collected and tabulated internally at first. We won’t display them publicly until we have enough data to provide accurate and useful ratings.”. Let’s hope they evaluate the merit of the system before publishing any of the results. Perhaps a weighted system would work better, such that positive ratings from managers with high totals would count for more, while (retaliatory) negatives from those with poor ratings wouldn’t mean much.

  26. Carl J.Martinez said...

    I recently noticed Yahoo’s new feature, and the first thing that came to mind was,“trouble”. You can always critize or bad rap a fellow player thru the message board,but leaving a permanent blemish is akin to branding him with an iron rod. Whoever tough of this BS feature at Yahoo,should be airlifted to Cairo,Egypt to “rate” whats going on over there. I’m going to recomend this article to my fellow players in the leagues I play. Is there a way to let Yahoo know oneself displeasure with new feature ?

  27. uncle bill said...

    Yahoo is Skynet? … LMAO.

    You know, if some troll attacks your Yahoo ID, and this causes you so much mental anguish, you can always get another Yahoo ID. I think it takes like three, possibly four, mouse clicks.

  28. Mike S said...

    People can get pretty emotional over the simplest things. All it takes is one moment of spite to hurt a managers reputation. Think of any trade veto where their are hard feelings and arguments. Eventually it recedes with time. This is just a chance to up the Ante all over again.

  29. Donald Trump said...

    This is a sad but true commentary on who we are as internet using fantasy baseball participants.  So we are worried about guys in their mid thirties acting like 13 year old boys with this new rating system? Indeed!
    Obviously, if 30+ year old guys may act stupidly, anyone under the age of 25 will certainly do so.  This is a bad idea.

  30. RotoLogo said...

    It’s not the end of fantasy sports but I don’t care for that feature. I have seen normally rational and congenial players devolve into bitter and unimaginably immature Mr. Hydes.

    Considering how petty and small people act in fantasy leagues there is no question this will be abused. So in the end it’s probably something we won’t even see next season. I understand negative ratings with business, but this ain’t business it’s a game. Albeit one with wagers.

    I’ve said it before and will continue: someone really needs to create a service which holds the buy-ins in escrow and pays out the winners ON TIME. But of course is that legal? Not so sure.

    And I’ll take an abusive idiot who is a horrible player in my league any day. Dead money FTW!

    Derek

  31. Brad Johnson said...

    Much like in poker, when you have a donkey in the league you never know who (s)he is going to take down with them.

    Last year I poured hours into squeezing value out of the waiver wire only to watch my careful gains nullified in one nonsensical trade between the league donkey and the only owner within shouting distance of me. He later beat me by 1 point and a 4 run margin. If he had .01 less WHIP we would have tied. He got both major run producers and low WHIP pitching in the trade without giving up a single impact player.

  32. @duckfromthepond said...

    good stuff, as a frequent yahoo user, I’m flabbergasted they would allow something like this, with comments and stuff already being chock full of weirdos and overly-zealous commenters

    to someone’s point, this seems like just another way to encourage ‘childish behavior’

    good post.

    -w

  33. Tim Burwell said...

    A lack of faith in humanity has led to the birth of this article. To immediately believe that all those involved in fantasy leagues will universally and unequivocally rate opposing managers negatively is to say that the majority of those participating are black hearts, which is bogus. This glass-half empty approach to this new feature is not fair to those out there who actually care and will use the system effectively. But, honestly, anybody fretting over negative feedback on their Yahoo! player profile simply doesn’t have enough other problems in their life. That being said, I’m going to rate every single manager I come across as “dishonest” and “stupid”, because I am a black heart.

  34. Todd said...

    I noticed this Yahoo “improvement” on my league page as they rest of you did. However, unlike the article author, I immediately loved the potential.

    Perhaps I am naive in thinking I won’t be targeted by anyone in these ratings, but I loved the idea of being able to negatively rate owners who draft teams and then quit.

    These people should not be allowed to join leagues if they are multiple offenders of drafting and bailing. What would possess someone to join a league, (even a free, public league, it doesn’t matter) draft a team, and never look at their team again for the entirety of the season? What’s the point behind this?

    I would much rather play with an obnoxious, jerk than someone who quits and doesn’t follow, field a full roster, respond to offers, etc.

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