Paul Charchian has been involved with the fantasy community for seemingly forever. Our David Dodds sat down with this pioneer in the hobby.
David Dodds: Many of us in the industry know about the many hats you wear. From original Fanball owner to current FSTA President to radio personality to owner of LeagueSafe. Tell the readers a little about who you are and the many roles you have in this industry.
Paul Charchian: I'm one of the old guys in the industry. My fantasy football first draft pick was made in my middle school cafeteria: Rookie quarterback Phil Simms. Yes, I took a rookie quarterback in the first round. Many of you will stop reading now, and I can't really blame you. Of course, back then, I had no idea what the hell fantasy football was, and I spent the draft throwing out names as I thought of them off the top of my head.
In 1993, myself and Rob Phythian started Fanball, a company with one product: Fantasy Football Weekly magazine. In 1997, we started the web site, Fanball.com. 10 years later, Rob and I left Fanball. I started working on LeagueSafe, which launched a year later. The need for LeagueSafe was so compelling that I felt confident that the marketplace would respond to it. LeagueSafe is an online entry fee management service designed specifically for fantasy leagues.
I was the chairman of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association for a couple of years, and then became the FSTA president two years ago. We have a fantastic board of directors, comprised of some of the best people in the industry.
I work with KFAN in the Twin Cities, and appear regularly on a variety of radio stations outside of Minnesota.
DD: It has to sadden you to see the website you helped create (Fanball) just disappear with a stroke of a pen. Give us your thoughts on how that could even happen.
PC: Sure, it's been sad to see Fanball come to an end. That said, when you sell a company, you lose the right to complain about the direction the new owners take. People have been pretty tough on the management that superseded Rob and I. But I don't think that's probably fair. In the end, I think the dissolution of Fanball was mostly due to a bad fit between Fanball, a smaller, slow-growth web site, and its owner, a massive, globe-spanning entity, Liberty Media.
DD: Tell us a bit about what you are doing with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.
PC: As the FSTA president, I've worked to build on the efforts of my predecessors, Greg Ambrosious and Jeff Thomas. They set the foundation for the organization. My goals have centered around improving the value received by our members, especially some of our bigger companies, like ESPN, Yahoo, CBS and the NFL, to name a few. I believe that our industry conferences have improved dramatically. Our last conference featured speakers from Facebook, Gigya, and Mashery. And our research has grown in depth and relevance. I'm delighted that we've restarted the FSTA Hall of Fame, which just inducted RotoWire's Peter Schoenke and NBC's Rick Wolf.
DD: Many players have been scammed out of their money from contests/leagues that have failed to pay "guaranteed" prize pools.
PC: As someone who cares deeply about this industry, the failure to award prizes is a major area of worry for me. Consumers can't easily figure out which contests will end up paying out, and which will default on their prize obligations. We've seen contests that have reliably paid for years suddenly be unable to pay. So, even a strong track record isn't enough.
It certainly helps to look for contests that bank their prize obligation in a third-party controlled escrow. Some big companies don't need that. ESPN, as one example, won't be defaulting on any prize obligations.
DD: Related, LeagueSafe is in the business of securing entry fees for individual leagues.
PC: LeagueSafe takes the concept of a third-party escrow, and applies it to every league with an entry fee. LeagueSafe allows team owners to deposit entry fees online, into your league's account. It's as easy as buying a book at Amazon. LeagueSafe locks down the funds during the season, so everyone can see that the money isn't going anywhere. And then, at the end of the year, the commissioner allocates the winnings, and the winners are ready to start withdrawing funds just hours after the end of the season.
Aside from helping with security, LeagueSafe is just plain easier than dealing with checks, cash, IOUs, and the usual crap that commissioners have to put up with. Plus, LeagueSafe will nag the slow-paying deadbeats in your league.
DD: What about leagues that are formed online, among strangers, like in the FBG forums?
PC: Optionally, for leagues comprised of strangers, the commissioner's winnings allocation can be subject to a league vote for approval. It's one of the ways that LeagueSafe is better than cash, checks, PayPal, etc... I certainly recommend that approach for leagues of strangers.
DD: Does LeagueSafe cost anything to use?
PC: LeagueSafe defaults to be completely free. That's not to say that it's impossible to find fees, but it works perfectly without any fees of any kind.
DD: How people can get more info?
DD: Can people outside of the Twin Cities hear your fantasy football radio show?
PC: I'm proud to say that "Fantasy Football Weekly" is the longest-running fantasy sports show. We've been on the air since 1994. New shows start Saturday August 6th, and the podcast is available via iTunes.
DD: How big can fantasy sports get? Are we near a peak or is this something that is just getting started?
PC: The FSTA's summer survey showed a gain of 4M new fantasy players in the last year! We've jumped from 15M players in 2003, to 21M in 2007 to 36M in 2011. Nearly 1-in-5 men are playing. That's mind- boggling. We can't sustain this kind of meteoric growth, but I expect that we'll keep growing, especially in the 12-17 year-old demo, as family leagues continue to grow.
DD: Give us a player that you will believe will be undervalued this year (production greatly exceeds draft slot)? How about an overvalued player too?
PC: I'd spoon with Bernard Scott. I've always felt that he was an infinitely more dynamic runner than Cedric Benson, and I've never understood why Scott's gotten fewer injections than Nicole Kidman's face. Benson could easily find himself out of work, and Scott should have the first crack at the job. He's a little slight for goal line use, but I'm still optimistic that he'll create fantasy points. Granted, I was selling the same story at this time last year, so caveat emptor.
The player I'm most worried about is Adrian Peterson. He's a phenomenal talent, but I worry that people don't realize how bad the talent level in Minnesota will be. His quarterback, be it Christian Ponder or a journeyman, will offer little to keep defenses honest. His offensive line is a wreck, with problems at every single position. In four of his final seven games last year, he rushed for 51 yards or fewer. In three of the final five games, he rushed for less than 36 yards. He's a great player in a very difficult situation.
DD: Parting Shots - Any last thoughts you want to give to the Footballguys audience?
PC: One of the key ways I've tracked LeagueSafe's growth is through mentions in the FBG Shark Tank and the Looking For Leagues forums. It's been rewarding to see people increasingly opting to use the service as they're building their leagues online. Many thanks to Joe and David for building an vibrant community of very dedicated fantasy football fans.