Posted on: June 4, 2009 9:59 am

The Voice of the Fantasy Draft Room

I received a few questions during Fantasy Baseball Draft season about the new voice in the draft rooms.  For those of you in a typical "snake" style draft, the voice lets you know when you are on deck to pick, or when you are on the clock to make your pick.  If you are in an "auction" style draft the voice lets you know that time is running out on the current auction by saying "Going Once", "Going Twice", and "Sold" once a player is sold.  It also lets you know when it is your turn to nominate a player. 

We've gotten some good feedback on it.  A lot of people wanted it so they could leave the room during a draft, turn the volume on their speakers up, and the voice will let them know when they are on the clock.  Some people have gotten annoyed with it, but we do offer an easy way to turn it off.  But most of the feedback we've gotten is about who the voice is. Many people thought it sounded familiar to them, but that they could not place it.

Since we launched Fantasy Football this week and drafts are going to start ramping up soon, I thought I'd post it here. Anyway, the voice of the draft room is none other than CBSSports' own Gus Johnson . If you are familiar with Gus Johnson's work, you know that he is Mr. Excitement when it comes to calling a game.  If you are unfamiliar with Gus Johnson by name, you've no doubt heard him call either NCAA Tournament or NFL games and probably asked yourself why this guy was getting so excited about a random play in a game.  He calls every play in a game like it is the most important play in the game.  And that's what we liked about him.  He was a no-brainer of a choice when we were trying to determine who was going to be the voice of our draft rooms. He brings a high level of excitement to what we feel is one of the most important days of the Fantasy season.  

We also had Gus create a bunch of other sound bytes that we are going to try to work into the draft room as well. So you can look out for those in the future.  By the way, he's also in the Mock Draft rooms which are also up and running if you want to check it out. We'll have Mock Drafts for Auction leagues coming soon. As always, if you have any feedback about the voice of the draft room, I am listening.
Posted on: May 26, 2009 11:24 am

The Social Aspect of Fantasy Sports

I'd argue that Fantasy Sports, in it's most basic form, needs to include these 6 features:
  • Draft
  • Set Lineup
  • Transactions (Add/Drop, Trade)
  • Live Scoring
  • Stats
  • Content (Draft Prep, Player News, Analysis)
If you want to play fantasy, you can get that done as long as 1)your draft runs well, 2) you have no problems seting a lineup on a regular basis, 3) you can conduct all of your transactions without issue, 4) you can check live scoring and it is accurate, 5) you can check and sort stats anyway you need to in order to analyze your team/players, and 6) some player news to help you make those decisions never hurts. 
I'd even argue that content is not fundamental to the game. Sometimes it can just be added noise when trying to do your own analysis. Often times I've swayed my decision according to the experts only to kick myself for not following what I knew to be true in my own head.  But, we'll leave it in because at the very least, it is good to know if a player is injured and will not be playing for a while. 

We've spent a lot of time working on these 6 features of the site.

But Fantasy has evolved into something much more social than just player analysis and decision making. If you've been with us for a while, you've undoubtedly noticed that we've been trying to enhance some of the more social aspects of the website.  We had always included a League Wide Email Address, a Message Board, the ability to post a league story, and a chat room within the draft.  But in recent times we've added Sticky Notes which allow you to leave a note for someone on a specific page in the league, we've enhanced the league history which provides fodder for more social behavior around Fantasy,  we've added the ability to post video content to your league news stories, and we've improved the chat rooms and added them to the live scoreboards of your league. 

To be honest, we've had varying levels of success with each of these items. Some are too new to tell, and others may have been implemented poorly (in my mind) and I get the feeling people don't even know where to find them.  But we can't deny the data that tells us that the chat room has been very well received.  Sometimes though, our users are so thirsty for a feature, that once we get it out there, they will consume it no matter how it is implemented.  Basically, they will use it despite its shortcomings and we'll never know that it is not doing the job it could be doing. 

So what I am asking here is 1) Is your league using the chat room? 2) Are you getting all you that could be out of that experience?  3) How would you like to see chat evolve within your league?  4) Are the social features within your league adequate?  5) Would you like to see the social features of fantasy evolve outside the contexts of your leagues? 

And really, I'd be happy to hear any other input you might have about how you feel that Fantasy has and will continue to evolve socially.

Category: Fantasy
Posted on: May 18, 2009 4:02 pm

Rested and Fantasy Blog

Well I'm back from my honeymoon. I take it from the overwhelming response to my pre-honeymoon column that you'll all now be able to finally get some sleep and carry on with your lives knowing that I have returned safely and will now be resuming my blogging duties. For anyone who is interested, Wifi access was sporatic at best.  Most hotels offer it, but at an exorbitant rate. Some cities actually had public free hotspots which was really nice, but I still had to tote my laptop to that public place and find a comfortable place to site for a few minutes. Internet cafes were fewer and further between than I had expected. So, between all of those options, I was able to check on my teams a few times...much to the dismay of my new wife. But we are still married, so 'no harm-no foul'. 

So, I was looking back through the community and our customer support emails to see what I missed the last couple of weeks. It seems like some of you are continuing to harp on the scoring changes made to the Fantasy Baseball games.  In these threads I've seen myself and some other Fantasy Baseball writers get called out for not addressing these anymore.  I am not ignoring these, I just think that we've beat that horse to death. You can continue to make your voice heard to your heart's content though.  Just know that we will be reviewing the scoring system again at the end of the season and we'll make any changes that we deem necessary to ensure the most fair and most fun game possible. 

Another issue that I keep hearing about is the amount of time that it can sometimes take for a player to hit the DL on our site. First of all, I'll let you know that in years past we've relied on an automated process. It involved a few moving parts and admittedly it probably wasn't as timely as it could have been.  This year, in response to our customers, we've been trying to couple the automated process with someone who is actually "babysitting" it to make sure that players get updated in a more timely fashion. Again, it is not perfect but in my opinion has been vastly improved from years past. Plus we are working on a new automated process that should all but eliminate the issue. I know this is an area where we can improve and we are taking action to do so. 
What is troublesome to me about some of the postings and emails I've seen is that some of our users don't realize that a player must actually be placed on the official MLB Disabled List before we can do anything about it.  Anything else is just speculation. I saw more than a few people complaining about Carlos Delgado not being updated and they were time stamped well before he was actually put on the DL. We can't help it if the Mets are wavering about what to do with this guy. Anyway, I don't mind people ripping us when we are slow to get someone on the DL, but I can't help but get defensive when our hands are tied.  For the record, once Delgado was placed on the DL, we had him updated quickly.  

What else did I miss?
Posted on: April 30, 2009 2:07 pm

Honeymoon? But What About My Fantasy Teams?

So, I'm getting married this weekend. And that's all well and good. I can get scores and even make add/drops on my phone this weekend if I need to. But it turns out that my wife-to-be wanted to go on a honeymoon, too. I've tried explaining to her that Fantasy never sleeps. That I can't just pick up and leave for any extended period of time. In the 9 years that I've been here, I've never been away from this office for more than 5 consecutive working days.

We actually had to pick the wedding date around our Fantasy Sports cycle. January through the start of April was out of the question because of the start of Baseball season and March Madness. And since we were rolling Football over right after the NFL draft this year, the end of April was out as well. We fully launch Football at the start of June and that time though the first few weeks of the NFL season are out in terms of going's just not going to happen during that time. Then Hockey and Basketball launch. So the end of September through the first week of November are out. By then you are into Thanksgiving and Christmas and before you know it, we're back at January.  So basically, there is a window where we (barely) slow down in early May. I saw the window and decided to take it.

Now, I'm not one of those people who thinks that their workplace will never survive if they are not there. This place runs whether I'm here or not. So even though there is ALWAYS something going on or coming up in terms of the production of the site, I can deal with leaving here for a little while. And I have full faith that everything that needs to get done while I'm gone will indeed get done.

What I am much more concerned about are my Fantasy Teams. Since I was so particular in terms of when the wedding could be, I had to make a compromise on the length and location of the honeymoon. So, as much as I tried to keep the honeymoon in the good old USA (I even offered Hawaii), we are headed to Europe. Now, it's been a long time since I've been anywhere in Europe...the last time I was there I'm not even sure the internet had been invented yet. From what I remember, things like figuring out the electrical intricacies were a challenge. So I'm a little more than worried that I won't be able to effectively manage my Baseball teams from over there.

We have a (surprising) number of users from overseas. So I'm guessing they have the internet by now. Let's assume that they have the internet. Let's even assume that I can figure out the electrical converter situation, that the hotels I stay in will have a wireless network, and that my laptop works over there. There is still the issue of a big time difference. And that doesn't even get into the fact that surely my new wife won't want to deal with any of this while she is on her honeymoon.

So, I've gone ahead and done the unthinkable. I have given the reigns of my team over to another person. Corey Guerrera, our trusty product manager who I so eloquently hyped up in a previous blog. Like I've said, Corey is a really good Fantasy player. And more importantly, he's the only one of the truly great fantasy baseball people in this building who isn't already in my big money league. But still, I feel dirty. I've never let any other person (that I wasn't splitting a team with) make a move for any one of my teams.  I just doesn't feel right. I imagine this is what some people feel like when they leave their child for the first time with a strange person. 

Anyway, I just felt the need to vent.  And to let you know that I wasn't going to be here for a couple of weeks. If I can get up and running over there, and I have jetlag in the middle of the night and my wife is sleeping, I'll try and get on and give everyone an update. I'm hoping that maybe even Corey G will hop on here as me and let you all know how badly he is screwing up my teams. Also, since I'm not leaving for a couple of more days, if anyone has any stories they can tell me about how you've managed your teams while in another country, I'd be very interested to hear them. At any rate, I'll see you in two weeks recharged, re-energized, and hopefully not divorced already for not being able to forget about Fantasy Baseball for a couple of weeks.  
Category: Fantasy
Posted on: April 28, 2009 9:19 am
Edited on: April 28, 2009 9:20 am

Football Commissioner 2009

I know most of my traffic right now is coming from Fantasy Baseball leagues, but I thought I'd let everyone know that Football Commissioner 2009 will be "rolled over" to the 2009 season this morning.  Basically that means that if you had a league with us last year, the site will be updated with the 2009 schedule, 2009 player pool, and 2009 projections.  All of the rookies that were drafted during this past weekend's NFL draft have been added to the site. 

For anyone who is new to the Commissioner products, we leave the sites up year round so you can make any changes you need to during the offseason.  As soon as it makes sense, we "roll over" to the upcoming season so that you can begin preparing for the next season.  All of the previous years' standings, schedules, transactions, rosters, and league history are archived and easily accessible on the site. 

Category: Fantasy
Posted on: April 27, 2009 2:08 pm

How 'Usable' is Our Site?

One of the problems about being the most customizable product in the industry is having to figure out where to put all of the features.  We have always prided ourselves on being the most customizable and that presents a difficult challenge.  The features that 99% of our users love, need to be a lot more prominent than the features that only 10% of our users value.  On the other hand, we also feel the need to make everyone aware of all the great features that we offer.  For years, even though our product has evolved, we’ve kept the same interface and have continued to cram features into it. 

For you commissioners, you’ve probably noticed (or maybe you haven’t) all of the ‘Advanced Features’ in your league setup area or in other places around the site.  This was the product of us adding features that appeal to a smaller set of our users and needing to find a place to put them.  Some of them aren’t even advanced features…they are features everyone should have/use.  Anyway, I mentioned in my previous blog that we are doing ‘usability’ testing on our products for the first time in a long time and it’s something that is long overdue. The results have been eye opening to say the least. 

I used to think that usability was a subjective term. What might be usable or user-friendly to me might not work for a friend. I thought maybe it was a preference thing, or might have had to do with a person’s particular way of thinking. Some users like the way certain sites/features work, others do not.  And to a certain extent, usability can be a subjective determination.  But when 100% of your users can’t make sense of something, there is nothing subjective about it, it is a problem.  And as it turns out, we have a couple of problems.         

As I’ve learned more about usability over the last year, I’ve formed my own opinions about what it means to our fantasy leagues.  In its most basic form a useable site should make it simple for its users to accomplish basic tasks. Our fantasy leagues are a tool where users come to accomplish certain tasks (setting a lineup, add/drop/trade players, checking stats, setting up a league, etc.).  And the main goal of a tool is to be a facilitator in accomplishing those tasks and that the tool should never get in the way of a user accomplishing those tasks.  And for the most part I think our leagues do that.  It’s very easy to set a lineup and check your live scoring.  It’s a little more difficult to conduct an add/drop or trade (it could be easier).  It’s even a little more difficult to look for certain stat sets (a more complicated task, but should still be easier than it is).  All of these things, despite my comments after them, are relatively easy to accomplish.  That doesn’t mean we’re not looking at ways to improve them…we are.  Usability goes much, much deeper than what I’ve described, but what is most troublesome is that even for the most basic definition of usability our product has failed.  The area that is currently under the heaviest scrutiny is the Setup area. During the testing, trying to accomplish even simple tasks that the tool was asking of the user was difficult and led to high frustration levels. Some of our more seasoned veterans may already know how to get around that area of the site and might not find it that difficult to navigate.  But to new users it is like speaking a foreign language.

Anyway, like I said earlier, it’s a trade-off.  We like being the most customizable, so we’re not looking to remove any functionality.  But we want people to enjoy setting up a league on our site so much so that they in turn look to explore all of the features we have to offer. Just like most of you have. So we’re going to spend some time working on that area.  Like I’ve said in previous posts, it’s better for all of us if more people are playing Fantasy, not less.  And I don’t want to be responsible for someone not getting into Fantasy just because it was too frustrating to setup a league.  I know this post doesn’t necessarily apply to a lot of our more hardcore Fantasy users, but I am interested to know if there are any areas of the site that continue to cause you frustration in terms of usability.  I’m not looking for every single area that we can improve upon, I know there are plenty of those and in time I’ll hopefully provide a forum for each area of the site.  But if there are tasks that you think are difficult to accomplish with the existing set of tools, please don’t hesitate to let me know. 

Category: Fantasy
Posted on: April 23, 2009 1:15 pm
Edited on: April 23, 2009 1:16 pm

How Many Ways Can You View a Lineup?

I apologize for not getting a blog up sooner this week, but I have been on the road. I've been attending the usability tests that are being conducted on our Fantasy Commissioner setup process in San Francisco. I'll be doing a blog about this whole experience early next week. But suffice it to say that since these tests, I have been looking at our products in a whole new light.

So, today I went to set my lineup and was wondering is anyone uses the additional "lineup views" that I use so regularly. The lineup views are the little links on the upper right hand corner of your lineup on the Set Lineup page. For example, they say 'Schedule', 'Matchups',  'Yesterday', 'Last 7 Days', 'Last 14 Days', 'YTD Stats'. So, to answer my own question about the blog, accoriding to us, there are 6 ways to view your lineup.

But as I am analyzing this feature, there are a few things I need to consider. Is this feature useful? To me, it is really helpful when looking at my lineup and determining who to start or sit. It is a quick and easily consumable way to get information that I would normally have to go elsewhere for. It is one of the features I use most on the site. But is it useful to our users?

How could it be more useful? What other pieces of data could be incorporated? Is the existing data useful? For instance, I don't think the Matchups are necessarily as useful as the stats themselves. But to someone else they might be. I can think of a few things I'd like to see here, but this feature isn't specifically for me. It's for our users.

Can our users find this feature? Or is it too hidden? An issue that comes up here quite often is the fact that we are not sure if a feature is not being heavily consumed because it is not a compelling feature or is it because the users do not know it is there. People who have been using our site for years can probably find their way through the site pretty well just because they have been doing it for so long. But since the Lineup Views are sort of not in the standard navigation, the hunch is that they tend to get lost in the shuffle. That they get ignored by users because they aren't necessarily in a logical place to look for them. So, have you seen them or have I alerted you to something that is new to you?

Anyway, I've posed some rhetorical questions here that we have to deal with, but if you want to respond with your thoughts about this feature, feel free to do so. In light of the initial information we've gotten from this usability test, I have a feeling I'll be posing a lot more questions to the community to help me get some insights and your thought about some of the changes we're kicking around.

Posted on: April 15, 2009 10:17 am

Thoughts About Roster Trends

I tend to trust people until they can no longer be trusted. This goes for individuals as well as groups of people. I buy into the theory of "The Wisdom of Crowds ". Because of this belief, my favorite feature of our site is the Roster Trends (Stats/Roster Trends for those of you following along at home) area. It used to be that you had to scour the boxscores each day to see who was playing well and who wasn't. Roster Trends changed all of that. Now there is a place where I can come to quickly gauge what is going on in the Fantasy Baseball world.

First, I'll usually check out 'Most Viewed Free Agents' to see if there is anyone that is worth a pickup in my league. Then, as I dig a little deeper, I check out the 'Most Added and Dropped'. When I am making lineup decisions, I'll check out 'Most Activated/De-Activated Owned' players to see if there are any red flags I should be concerned about. Finally, the 'Most Traded' is probably the most engaging part of the site because I can see what the open market value of my players is. I am always shocked as I dig down and see some of the trades that get made on this site. I never seem to be able to pull off those kinds of trades. For instance, I'm checking out the Most Traded area right now and I am looking to see what Brandon Morrow is going for. I see a trade in an AL-only Commissioner league where Morrow, Gio Gonzalez, and Brandon Wood were traded for A-Rod and Papelbon. Really? If anyone in my league will give me A-Rod and Papelbon for Morrow and a couple of prospects, you know where to find me. Regardless, I can still look around that page for hours. Fascinating.

But I am becoming concerned that we as a group (the fantasy baseball players) are getting lazy. All too often, it seems that the Most Viewed players are players that have recent news posted about them by our content team. I guess it's like a chicken or the egg type philosophy. Is our content team doing a great job pointing out the hot players and we are reading up on them? Or do we, as a group, follow the hot players and our content team just happens to be writing about them? I'd love to think that EMack and the rest of the Fantasy Baseball experts on our site are so good that they just know what is going on all the time.  But if that is the case, and they are driving the Roster Trends pages, then what do we need Roster Trends for? I could just as easily check out the Player News area to see what is going on.

Average Draft Position (ADP) is essentially the same type of number as what we see in the Roster Trends area. It is user-driven data. It takes all of the data from all of the drafts on our site and aggregates it so that it shows you what the average draft position for each player is. It's too early in the Baseball season to make any sense out of the Average Draft Position (ADP) numbers, but for Football what we saw was disturbing. The ADP for the top 5 QB, RB, and WR were as follows:

QB - Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer

RB - Ladanian Tomlinson, Adrian Peterson, Brian Westbrook, Steven Jackson, Joseph Addai

WR - Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Reggie Wayne, Braylon Edwards, Larry Fitzgerald

Based on results from the season the top 5 of each based on how they actually performed:

QB - Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers, Kurt Warner, Aaron Rogers, Jay Cutler

RB - DeAngelo Williams, Michael Turner, Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, Thomas Jones

WR - Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, Steve Smith, Roddy White

Granted there were some unforseen injuries involved, but still...only 1 from each position actually made it into the top 5. And just scouring the rest of the list, as a group, we weren't even close on most of rest of the guys. 

I'll admit the the early results for Baseball in terms of ADP look a lot better. But as far as Roster Trends go, I went into my league for the last few days only to see that Marco Scutaro is the Most Added Free Agent, his ownership went up 33% this week. Yes, I am in a deep league, but still....Marco Scutaro? He's now owned in 44 percent of leagues. I'm not even sure he'd start on our company softball team. 

Anyway, like I said, I love the Roster Trends.  But we, collectively, should be setting the trends not following them. Use the Roster Trends as a guide, not the law. Please! The fate of my Fantasy Baseball season lies in your hands.


The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or