Interview with Greg Ambrosius
By David Dodds
August 15th, 2011

Greg Ambrosius is the founder of the National Fantasy Football Championship and the Director of Consumer Fantasy Games at STATS LLC. Greg has been in the fantasy sports industry since 1989 and was the editor of the industry's first national newsstand publication, Fantasy Baseball Magazine. Greg was the editor of that publication for 22 years, was the founder of the Fantasy Sports Trade Conference in 2000 and president of both the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) and the Fantasy Sports Association (FSA) from 2004-10. Greg is the only person elected to both the FSTA Hall of Fame and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. We were able to sit with him for a while.

David Dodds: The world of high-stakes contests continues to receive bad press over companies failing to pay, forcing players to litigate, etc. High profile companies like the World Championship of Fantasy Football (WCOFF) have still not fully paid their 2010 winners. Give us your thoughts on the state of the industry and how players can protect themselves going forward?

Greg Ambrosius: David, this is an embarrassing time for all of us in this industry. To think that five companies in the last four years have either defaulted on prize payments or been very, very late is discouraging. My hope is that the WCOFF finds a way to pay all prize winners, but there has been little communication by management recently to the players that this will be happening soon. It definitely is a Buyer Beware area of our industry and it shouldn't be that way. Trust me, it's not that hard to run first class contests that take in more revenue than prize payouts and pays in full and on time. This is ridiculous what has happened in this space.

What can players do? Obviously they need to do more homework on each contest, get to know the game operators personally and realize that if the prizes appear too good to be true they probably are. It's not hard to do the math in some of these contests and see that prizes are exceeding revenue even before expenses are factored in. When that happens, something has to give down the road. But I will admit that several of these contests had good track records in paying customers, had okay revenue streams and still walked out on their responsibilities to pay the prizes. It's embarrassing and it's something we as an industry need to fix before it seriously hurts our entire industry.

This was among the fastest growing pay areas of our space over the last 10 years and this could seriously hurt that growth. I hope consumers realize there are still a few good options out there, but I can't blame anyone from staying away if they've been burned here before. It's not a good situation for any of us.

Dodds: The National Fantasy Football Championship (NFFC) has a new home this year after being acquired by STATS LLC. Tell us about this arrangement and what players can expect playing in the NFFC in 2011.

Ambrosius: From 1989 to 2009 I worked at one company, Krause Publications, and in the last two years I've moved TWICE to new employers!! How do you like that? I started the NFFC when I was at Krause's and in 2009 Liberty Sports Interactive bought our entire fantasy sports division. I didn't own any part of that and thus went to LSI/Fanball.com in the acquisition along with Tom Kessenich. We were employed there for 18 months until LSI shut down Fanball.com this year. Fortunately, when the company announced its decision to shut down Fanball, I was allowed to get involved in discussions for an Asset Acquisition of the former assets that LSI had acquired from Krause's. I officially acquired the NFBC and NFFC on Feb. 18, 2011 and sold a majority of those assets to STATS LLC a few days later. Tom and I are fulltime employees at STATS now and plan to remain that way to the end of our professional careers.

When I acquired the assets, I knew I needed the technology to run the game and I didn't want to just hire a third-party provider. I wanted us to be able to own that part of the business and grow with technology. I immediately called STATS, which ran the NFBC and NFFC during our first six seasons, and we both agreed this was a perfect fit. We now are in a perfect position for our contests and I believe we can grow in many, many different ways in this setup.

For 2011, players can play in TWO different Main Events that have $100,000 grand prizes, more online options with our own draft software, and many different forms of competition. We are the only contest with 14-team leagues and 12-team leagues. We are the only contest that offers Third Round Reversal. We're the only contest that offers games as low as $60 and games as high as $10,000. It's fun offering something for everyone and knowing that every winner will be paid in full and on time, just like they have since we started the NFFC in 2004.

Dodds: The NFFC is known for its two $100,000 contests, but you also are offering a full slate of other games/leagues. Give us a quick run-down on what is being offered in 2011. What cities are live drafts happening in?

Ambrosius: Our signature event that we started the NFFC with in 2004 is the Classic, a 14-team league with $5,000 league prizes and a $100,000 grand prize. Cost of entry is $1400 and players can draft live on Saturday, Sept. 3rd at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, at the New York Sheraton Hotel & Towers in Manhattan, at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare in Chicago or Online. It's a great contest and many of our online satellite leagues where all prizes are paid within the league are of the 14-team format.

The NFFC Primetime is our 12-team Main Event that also has a $100,000 grand prize, $5,000 league prize and a $1,400 entry fee. The Primetime can be drafted in all three cities and Online on Saturday, Sept. 3rd as well as at the Bellagio and Online on Friday-Saturday, Sept. 9-10. We will be in Las Vegas for the first weekend of the NFL season where hundreds of fantasy players have drafted for years and years before. All Primetime owners will set their starting lineups for Week 1 AFTER the Thursday night opener between the Packers and Saints, so nobody has an advantage no matter when they draft. This is going to be another fun contest and we also have 12-team private satellite leagues in this format.

Our 12-Team Online Championship is a $350 entry point with a $40,000 grand prize and $2,100 in league prizes. This contest is based on 600 teams and we already have over 350 signups. Drafts are held almost every day as we get closer to the season opener and at this pace there's no doubt the grand prize will grow beyond $40,000. This is our fastest growing event and anyone can play online. Jump in now while spots are still there.

We also have private leagues at $10,000 per team (Diamond League, already sold out), $5,000 (Ultimate League on Sunday, Sept. 4th), $2,500 (Super Leagues, 3 of which are sold out), and even $60 (NFFC ‘60s, our version of bowling night two nights a week)!! Satellite leagues are also priced at $125, $250, $500 and $1,000. There really is something for everyone.

Dodds: The NFFC has a few unique rules (3rd Round Reversal and Kentucky Derby Seeding). Tell our readers about these twists to traditional drafting and why you have adopted them in all the NFFC contests.

Ambrosius: Yeah, 3RR/KDS sounds complicated, but it's not and it's designed with the players in mind. Third Round Reversal was adopted by us four years ago to balance the talent in the early rounds. Teams at the top of the draft order when we had just serpentine NFFC drafts were dominating the prize payouts in the 14-team format. Teams that had Priest Holmes early on or LaDainian Tomlinson dominated with those stud RBs and the the first pick in the third round. So we chose to make our 14-team format more fair by instituting 3RR and since then there has been much analysis on your site that 3RR is fairer for the players than straight serpentine. When we added 12-team leagues to the NFFC in 2008, we kept 3RR for that format, too.

3RR works on its own, but adding KDS to it makes it ideal. This way folks can strategize on their early round selections and tell us where they want to draft. In 2009, Tom Yates wanted to go with three top WRs, so his top KDS preference was 14 and he was seeded there. He ran his plan to perfection and won $100,000. If he had randomly gotten the No. 1 pick, he might not have finished as our grand champion. Turn to this year and KDS is working so good that in many pay leagues we've run the average KDS preference received was 2.0, which means in a 14-team league all 14 teams got on average their second preference. Everyone has such a different opinion of where the best spot to draft from is that as many as eight owners have gotten their first preference. You can credit that to 3RR.

Dodds: Now that free agency has mostly concluded, how about a few sleeper players that you think are heavily undervalued in drafts this year?

Ambrosius: With all of the information out there these days, sleepers are hard to find. Sites like FBG.com unveil them well before Draft Day, so folks are well aware of the sleepers by then.

Looking at our ADPs, here's a few guys to watch for:

  • QBs: I like Matthew Stafford if he can stay healthy, a big IF I know. His ADP is 85.18 in the NFFC and he's 13th among all QBs being taken. He looked good in the pre-season opener and of course he has CJ. Matt Cassel with an ADP of 103.64 will start out as a QB2 but could elevate to QB1.

  • RBs: Nobody will ever figure out Mike Shanahan and how he uses his RBs, but keep an eye on Tim Hightower, whose ADP is 161 while he's the 53rd back being taken. He also looked good in the pre-season opener, but he does have a history of fumbling and under-producing. I like Ryan Grant bouncing back (ADP of 83.27), but James Starks with an ADP of 102.27 is very interesting. He looks quick and big in early season workouts. Arizona rookie RB Ryan Williams (ADP of 96.36) also could produce if Beanie Wells gets injured again as expected.

  • WRs: Atlanta WR Julio Jones (ADP of 100.91) won't sleep much longer. He's the real deal and will produce even in his debut season. Saints WR Lance Moore (102.59) also is primed for a solid season in this offense. Jordy Nelson is going pretty high (ADP of 115.05), but no doubt he's ready to become a big factor in the Packers' wide open offense.
  • Dodds: Give us your best sales pitch why fantasy players should choose to play in the NFFC this year.

    Ambrosius: Honestly, I hope players compete in the NFFC and all of the other trustworthy pay contests out there. It's time to support those games that support the players and those games that players can trust. I hope they play the NFFC and the others rather than leave the space because of the way other contests have treated them.

    If they can only play one, though, then I hope it is the NFFC for the reasons I stated above. We have something for everyone, from $60 leagues to $250 satellite leagues to $1400 Main Events where you can win $100,000 to $10,000 entry fee leagues. We also have 14-team formats and 12-team formats. KDS/3RR is made for the players in mind. And with STATS backing our contests, there are no worries about getting paid in full and on time. We're going to be one of the contests you can trust this year and for many years to come. We've been in this space a long time and we have every intention of expanding our live events model in the years to come. We're bullish on the live events model.

    Dodds: Finally, how can players get more info about the NFFC?

    Ambrosius: Website: nffc.stats.com
    Forums: http://nffcboards.stats.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi
    Rules/FAQ: http://nffc.stats.com/football/leagues/nffc/classic_rules.asp
    http://nffc.stats.com/football/leagues/nffc/primetime_rules.asp
    http://nffc.stats.com/football/nffc/faq.asp
    Email POC: gambrosius@stats.com
    Phone POC: 715-254-5553 (cell) or 715-445-2906 (office)

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