NFL.com Unveils New Fantasy Game, Serves Delicious Sliders

Friday, August 27, 2010 |

I'm not quite sure why the folks at NFL.com invited the media—me, specifically—to their fifth annual "Media Sales Fantasy Football Draft" Thursday night at the swanky Edison Ballroom here in Manhattan. There was nothing particularly newsworthy about the event, or interesting, really. It was, in effect, little more than a private party thrown for the league's media buyers (companies with distinctively 21st century names like Targetcast and Mediavest) in which they turned an otherwise ordinary 16-team fantasy football draft into an elaborate spectacle, complete with dazzling video presentations, unlimited beer and wine, and four different varieties of slider, including seared tuna.   

The event was emceed by Scott Hanson, the affable if somewhat irritating host of Redzone TV on the NFL Network, a channel my cable provider, Time Warner Cable, stubbornly refuses to carry. It also featured special appearances by former Jet great Curtis Martin and master thespian/Subway pitchman Michael Strahan, neither of whom was made available to the media. I couldn't get within ten feet of either of them.

It was the kind of event I imagine established media guys like Neil Best get invited to all the time but have the good sense not to attend, the kind of self-serving corporate circle-jerk the major professional sports leagues have mastered. I guess what the NFL wanted us to write about is their new fantasy football game, which unlike their well-entrenched competitors will offer exclusive, in-game video highlights this season. 

A kind NFL staffer labored through a personal demonstration of the new fantasy interface for me on the balcony overlooking the ballroom, where the media appeared to be sequestered, and I can't say I noticed anything particularly remarkable (or unremarkable) about it. It's a clean design which seems easy to navigate, but I think it's going to take a while before NFL.com starts cutting into CBS Sportsline's and ESPN's sizeable market share in any significant way. The live video is a nice touch but it's probably not enough, especially considering how it's not yet available for mobile devices.

I guess the most interesting thing about the event was seeing just how serious the NFL has gotten about their investment in fantasy football after years of distancing itself from it over concerns about its connection to gambling. With an estimated 27.7 million Americans playing fantasy footballas many as play golfthere was just too much money on the table for them to pass up. NFL.com's fantasy game is free, but the advertisements that appear on its pages (and on NFL Network fantasy-oriented shows) certainly won't be. And now that the league is unapologetically partnering with state lotteries on scratch-off games, they certainly seem less concerned about associating their brand with gambling than they were in the past.

With $80-$100 billion dollars being illegally bet on NFL games every year, the NFL can't help but get in on the action. Who can blame them? More so than any other sport, spread betting has long been a big part of their game's appeal. The league would never explicitly endorse it as long as it remains illegal, of course (though they remain grateful for the television audience and advertising revenue it generates), but they'd be fools not to try to cash in on the public's gambling obsession in some other, more legitimate way.

As for last night, all I can say is that it did get me excited for the upcoming football season, which is now less than two weeks away. And it was also nice to get an early look at an active fantasy draft board, with my own draft coming up early next week. After a disastrous 2009 campaign I now hold the #3 and #26 (and #31) picks, and last night did give me some ideas for guys to target.

Too bad my draft will be held online, sans seared tuna sliders and celebrity cameos.

Here are the results of the Media Sales Draft's first round:

1. Chris Johnson, RB, TEN
2. Adrian Peterson, RB, MIN
3. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, JAX
4. Ray Rice, RB, BAL
5. Drew Brees, QB, NO
6. Frank Gore, RB, SF
7. Aaron Rodgers, QB, GB
8. Andre Johnson, WR, HOU
9. Peyton Manning, QB, IND
10. Tom Brady, QB, NE
11. Michael Turner, RB, ATL
12. Randy Moss, WR, NE
13. Brandon Marshall, WR, MIA
14. Calvin Johnson, WR, DET
15. Miles Austin, WR, DAL
16. Rashard Mendenhall, RB, PIT

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