Thank you all for joining us here at the Footballguys High Stakes Roundtable – 2012 edition. Let's get right to the first question:
Last season, several quarterbacks were dominant in fantasy, and at least five QBs are pushing for early consideration in many fantasy drafts. Do you believe that this trend will continue this year?
The success of the Footballguys Players Championship (FPC) is unlike anything the industry has ever seen. Debuting in 2010, this $350 online event drew a whopping 2,974 teams in year two. Recently, our Jeff Pasquino caught up with David and Joe to find out how the Footballguys Players Championship is rolling along in 2012.
In 50 words or less, how would you describe the Footballguys Players Championship?
David: The Footballguys Players Championship is now the go-to fantasy football contest in America. For $350, you get to take a shot at greatness and go against the biggest names in the game. It may have a small entry fee ($350 or three teams for $1,000), but the prize pool is second to none. Last year the contest had 247 (12-team) leagues fill. This year we expect 300+ leagues. At about 320 leagues, the total cash prizes will exceed $1 million.
Joe: The short version is very simply this: The most trustworthy mid stakes game with the best payouts from people you know and trust.
For years Footballguys was only an information and content provider. Why did you decide to make the move to create / host this contest?
David: We feel we have the best email list in the nation. With over 200,000 people receiving our daily email every day (and sometimes getting multiple breaking updates), we know the people that remain on this list are serious about fantasy football. After watching many contests defraud players, we saw an opportunity to do something special in this space. The chance to do it with Dave and Alex (owners of the FFPC) made our decision to enter this space a no-brainer.
Joe: We've known for a long time that this market was something we wanted to be in. We've had Footballguys customers for years asking us to be in this market as well. It was a very logical and natural progression for us that fit perfectly into our business plan. As I looked at the contest marketplace, the biggest question I saw customers having was trust. They wanted to be able to do business with people they felt like they knew and trusted. With Footballguys, we put earning the customer's trust at the very top of our priority list. I'm a big believer in the idea that people do business with people they like and trust. Hopefully over the years, we've been able to build that group of people that like and trust us.
Footballguys decided on a strategic partnership with Dave and Alex from the FFPC, aligning your contests (same rules, same scoring) and both businesses appear to be flourishing. Can you tell us more about the partnership between Footballguys and the FFPC?
David: Dave Gerczak and Alex Kaganovsky run the high stakes company the FFPC. They built it for the players and they did that successfully because they themselves were successful playing in high stakes events. I flew out to Vegas to play in their event a few years back, and I was blown away at the attention to detail these two put in their event. The players were laughing and smiling and having the time of their lives. When Dave Gerczak approached us in 2010 about a partnership for an online contest, we knew we would be working with the best in the business. It made sense to use their popular rules and to make the contests play with the same rules. Many can't afford a $1,400+ entry fee into their Main Event. But with a co-manager or two, most can afford our contest. People can play in the Footballguys Players Championship and learn the intricacies on the FFPC rules. By aligning with Dave and Alex and adopting their rules, our contest also got an immediate boost of entries from their loyal supporters. This is as big a Win/Win situation that exists in this space.
Joe: When most jobs are broken down, there are parts of the job you like and other parts you don't like. I love to cook a big BBQ dinner for a big group of people. What I don't love is the cleaning up the kitchen after the cooking is done. Unfortunately, you can't have one without the other.
In the same way, we knew that we'd love creating and promoting a mid stakes fantasy football contest. I had zero doubt we'd have lots of people wanting to play and I knew we could create a great game. What I also knew though was that I didn't like the day to day administration part of it. I didn't feel like we had the people in place to deliver the product I wanted to. Partnering with Alex and David of FFPC was a great fit because they are fantastic at the day-to-day administration. It really was a nice partnership as we both brought strengths to the table and the other side filled our spots where we were weak.
Since the FPC began (in 2010? / two years ago?), the contest has seen remarkable growth and participation. How big do you see this contest getting this year? What about down the road - how big can it get?
David: Our internal goal is to surpass 300 leagues (3,600 teams) in 2012. In the end though the players will decide how big this thing gets. We need to continue to do the things that players care about (run a great contest, pay people promptly, protect the prize pool at all costs, etc). At 2,964 teams last year, this contest has already surpassed all of my expectations. Anything more is just gravy.
Joe: I'd say there is no real limit. The market for guys in the mid stakes range is potentially huge. It's really not any different than any other business: As long as the value outweighs the cost for the customer, people will buy the product. It's really not a lot more complicated than that. Again, it goes back to the trust with the customer or more specifically, understanding the customer. We feel like we have a great finger on the pulse of the Fantasy Football owner because it's who we are too. That shows itself in things like making sure the payouts are structured attractively. Huge prizes are great, but they also need to be attainable. I feel like we've done a great job of making the prizes eye popping, but also attractive so they're reachable.
Everyone who plays in contests want to know what they can win. The grand prize is a whopping $150,000 this year, but what assurances are there for that big of a payout? What other prizes are available? What happens if the FPC doesn't get enough participants? Is there the possibility that the prize pool will be less?
David: We fully escrow THE ENTIRE PRIZE POOL. We do that because we know this is among the most important things players look at when deciding to join a contest. Yes we don't gain that whopping half-a-percent interest we could gain in a CD or something, but by escrowing the dollars we are showing the players that this money is there regardless of entries. If we sold 100 leagues, we would pay out the full prize pool as stated. That is what the law REQUIRES us to do. Footballguys and FFPC are two booming businesses. We would never NOT PAY the players what was promised. The hit to our businesses would not justify us paying less than we promised even if that resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars lost.
Our entire prizes can be found here. We pay 100 cash spots, give another 100 spots in Footballguys memberships, and pay $2,000 to the league winners.
Under no circumstances will this prize pool be decreased.
Joe: Back to the trust factor. One of the cornerstones of our business has been escrowing the entire prize pool. You tell the customer you're paying out this much in prize pool and you do what you say. Again, it's not that complicated. Yes, in a worst case scenario, we could wind up with not enough teams signing up and we'd pay out the full prize pool as promised and we'd lose money. That's not the end of the world. What's the end of the world is losing the trust of your customers.
So our plan is very simply to state the prize pool and pay the prize pool regardless if fewer teams enter. And if more teams than expected enter (as has happened for the last two years) we raise the prize pool.
Last year as the NFL was locking out it's players, we saw some high profile fantasy contests close shop and defraud the players out of large sums of money. Give us your thoughts on the state of the industry and how players can protect themselves going forward. What has the FPC done to protect the players interest?
David: I feel for the players. There are some outstanding people that were cheated out of hefty sums of money. And there was simply no reason for it. The word defraud might be too kind. These companies KNEW that they had expenses that they couldn't pay for. In the case of the World Championships of Fantasy Football (WCOFF), they paid celebrities, bought air time on Versus network, and did a host of other irresponsible things that eventually led to them defaulting on massive amounts of dollars owed to the players. It still makes me sick to think about it.
My personal advice to players is to play in our event and the FFPC events. We ESCROW the prizes. We pay out faster than any other contests. We take YOUR WINNINGS seriously. Other companies will give you a host of reasons that they won't ESCROW THE ENTIRE PRIZE POOL. In my eyes, none are valid. We make no big promises, but we back up those promises by fully protecting the money to be paid out. It's a big reason our contest is so successful.
Joe: It sucks beyond words that some people weren't paid by other contests. We knew there was some uncertainty in the market place and that's one reason why we are so up front in our contest about about escrowing money. If you think about these contests, it really boils down to a chicken and egg question. Which comes first, taking entry fee money in or paying prizes out? For us there is no question. We want to have the prize money ready and sitting there just waiting to be paid out.
The other thing that we've been very conscious of is being singularly focused. We never wanted to have a basketball contest funding a baseball contest that's funding a football contest. Not to say we'll never get into other sports but for now, we feel very comfortable sticking to just the NFL. It's been that way for us with Footballguys as well.
Let's talk about this year's version of the FPC. What new things are in store for this year's participants?
David: We have increased the league prizes to $2,000 this year ($1,500 for first and $500 for second). That was the result of an end of year players survey to hit the sweet spot of what the players wanted. We have increased the overall prize to $150K (from $125K) and widened the pool considerably. We know it's hard finishing in the Top 20 and are awarding players with 100 cash prizes.
Joe - The prize pool structure is fascinating to me. When you think about it, from a bottom line business finance perspective, it really doesn't matter how you pay it out. Whether you paid just one incredible giant prize for the grand champion or made a zillion small prizes where everyone got some money, the payout total is the payout total. The challenge for us is structuring the payout so it's most attractive to the largest number of people. What we found after talking to owners last year, was a desire to widen the pool and that's what we did. Our job just becomes structuring the payout in the most attractive way possible.
Someone wants to make the leap from their home league to this $350 event. Any words of wisdom to help ease his/her transition?
David: Jump in. Our past two winners were rookies in this format and played in two leagues and one league respectfully. We will make some early leagues drafts available to all and publish ADP against these open drafts as well. Know your players and study the format and take your shot at greatness.
Joe: If there's one thing I've seen, it's that people often underestimate themselves. I see people who are fantastic fantasy owners that still feel nervous about playing with the "big boys". What we find each year is that the "big boys" have their hands more than full with the rookie owners. Fantasy football is about using the information you have to the best of your ability. With resources like Footballguys, I'm seeing fantasy owners that are incredibly well prepared and qualified.
Let's say I have a limited budget and have to make a choice on which contest to play this year. What is your best sales pitch to convince me to choose the FPC over any other contest? What makes this contest the best the industry has to offer?
David: You would not be reading this if you were bad at fantasy football. You likely are a winning player in your local leagues. For $350, you will be competing against the very best fantasy football players in the country. In what other sport or hobby can you do that for so little? And if are successful, the rewards are off the charts. If $350 is a budget buster for you, get a co-manager to split the costs.
Joe: I put myself in the place of a fantasy owner. If I were playing, I'd look for a professionally run contest with a great track record. I'd want to know the service was going to be over the top good. I'd want to know the payouts were great. And I'd want to know the prize money was completely secure. And I'd want to work with a company that I trusted. I don't know of any contest that better hits those points than the Footballguys Players Championship.
Let's get to the bread and better of Footballguys for a minute - football player analysis. Give us a player that you believe will be significantly undervalued in high-stakes drafts this year (production greatly exceeds draft position). Please backup that selection with why you like his chances to succeed in 2011.
David: I am all-in on Isaac Redman for 2012. Rashard Mendenhall is hurt and is expected to miss the start of the season at a minimum. He also does not have a long-term deal with the team and will be playing out his rookie contract. Add in his "explosive" interviews that upset the owners and players of the team last year and I believe the Steelers front office will do everything in their power to allow Isaac Redman to become their go to back going forward. I have watched this player a lot and I believe he is ready to make the leap. His ADP is ridiculously low with minimal threats on his carries.
Joe: Even bigger than a player - I'd say a value trend I see strongly for this year is this - wait wait wait on your quarterback. I mean like wait forever. Once you're past the Rodgers/Brady/Brees bunch, this is an incredibly deep group of quarterbacks. And it fits right into the Value Based Drafting concept I developed years ago. Quarterbacks get all the attention and they score a lot of points but the reality this year is that there will be a ton of quarterbacks that will be completely serviceable. For specific players, I love Tony Romo if you just can't hold out and wait too long. Other players like Robert Griffin III, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Joe Flacco all can be had much later and will give good value with nice upside.
Additionally, give me a player that will not be on your roster at any draft position. Explain why you think this overrated player could drastically underperform their ADP.
David: I don't think I can pull the trigger on Adrian Peterson in 2012 and I am as big a fan of his as anybody is. But the way that leg bent at the end of last season, I thought we might not be seeing him at all in 2012. Now word is he is crushing everyone in sprints (straight-ahead running) and expects to play in week 1. I don't doubt the heart nor his ability to maximize rehab, but no one ever has come back from these surgeries that fast and performed great. I will let someone else gamble on his lofty draft position.
Joe: I'll go again with another trend I see that I believe you should avoid: Beware the old running backs. The possibility for vastly underperforming their ADP just feels bigger than ever with these guys. Teams like the Bears aren't trying to be scrooges when they hesitate to pay a guy like Matt Forte. They realize the harsh truth of the situation - running back is a young man's position. And these guys have incredibly short shelf lives. Now to be fair, obviously guys like Maurice Jones-Drew, Matt Forte, and Michael Turner will be productive players. Some maybe very productive. But I'll let another owner roll the dice there. I think a 2011 Maurice Jones-Drew season is more the exception for these aging guys than the rule.
What else should fantasy football fans know about the FPC?
David: The online drafts start on July 29th and go until September 5th. Teams owners which register for the FPC prior to the early bird deadline of June 30, 2012 will receive a FREE 1-year subscription to Footballguys.com a $28.95 value. Team owners which purchase the 3-pack (3 teams for $1000) prior to June 30, 2012 will receive FREE 3-year subscription to Footballguys.com, a $64.95 value. Link to register.
Joe: David has the info above. From the intangible stuff, I'd say to know that the FPC is run by people as passionate about the game of fantasy football as you are. We understand what fantasy owners want and we'll do our dead level best to deliver a fantastic experience for you. You have to draft and manage the team, but we'll do everything we can to make it a great season for you. And we put our money where our mouth is with the escrowed prize pool.
As always, feel free to provide comments or suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.