Fantasy sports are one of the most successful sports entertainment concepts ever conceived of. That said, the concept has been largely unchanged since the 1970s and has the undesirable effect of separating the fantasy player from the result of the games. It seems like a market ripe for disruption.
One of the many startups that agree with this notion, today OHK Labs relaunched SportsPicker Challenge, a competitive, social sports prediction platform that reinvents how fans participate in games. Via its free iOS and Facebook apps, SportsPicker lets fans compete against either their own Facebook friends or complete strangers in picking the outcomes of games.
Sports enthusiasts can participate in contests around all four major US professional sports (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL), as well as NCAA football and basketball, and three soccer leagues (EPL, MLS, EUFA Champions League). Ultimately, the contest is based on the outcome of games rather than the performance of individuals that dictate winners and losers within SportsPicker Challenge.
“With fantasy leagues, the games become meaningless, because the only thing that matters is individual player stats,” says SportsPicker CEO Oren Kantor. “Also, fantasy leagues require a lot of time – players have to keep up with who is starting and make substitutions all season long. That can take the fun out of the game.”
This is a real problem. The worst thing thing for a diehard fan is to find themselves needing to root against their favorite team because their fantasy results depend on the performance of the opposing star player. Despite the obvious frustrations of this situation, it’s one that fantasy players find themselves in on a weekly basis. I have countless friends who have vowed never to join fantasy leagues again after one too many unsatisfying, conflicted weekends.
An avid sports fan, Kantor developed this alternative system to replicate the excitement associated with NCAA Basketball’s March Madness, when everyone from the average office secretary to the President of the United States tries their hand at predicting the outcome of entire basketball games.
SportsPicker Challenge added a twist to this model, developing its own unique scoring system that considers Vegas sportsbook odds. Players can win 125 to 200 points by correctly picking an underdog team, while picking the favorite is only worth 100 points. Also, the cumulative points approach is far less penal for individual losses than is the March Madness bracket.
The reason fantasy sports have focused so exclusively on individual player performances is the desire to incorporate real money gambling. Gaming laws in all but a few states prohibit betting on the outcomes of sporting events. Wagering on abstract games constructed of various players from different teams skirts this law, but also fundamentally changes the dynamics of the cheering process.
SportsPicker games among friends are played solely for bragging rights, but by participating in sponsored challenges, players can win real prizes from tickets to an NFL game, copies of popular sports video games, and an assortment of big box retailer gift cards. Participating sponsors currently include Amazon, Sports Authority, Best Buy, ScoreBig.com, and BestBetTickets.com. To date, OHK Labs has identified more than $10,000 in prizes.
Players could conceivably still add a betting element on their own, outside of the platform, but this is equally true of a game of dominoes or cards. This, however, does not offer appeal of a single centralized platform to facilitate this gambling.
OHK Labs reported $100,000 in seed funding in September 2011 from self-described “middle market private equity firm” 22Hundred Group. SportsPicker is the company’s first publicly available product.
There are a variety of startups and established companies vying for the attention of consumers in this space. One that I wrote about recently, DraftDay, is targeting limited attention spans by breaking traditional fantasy sports seasons down to a single day. The industry is so big that CBS Sports decided to open its own independent app store exclusively for fantasy sports apps.
This notwithstanding, the majority of the products created for this space support players efforts in traditional fantasy contests. SportsPicker Challenge differentiates itself from the start by focusing on whole games. This idea will be a non-starter for those looking to gamble on sports, but for the average sports fan, SportsPicker looks to be a refreshing option.
[Crazy March Madness fan image courtesy of Market Stronger]