Fantasy Sites Fumble the Ball For Fans on Web
By KEVIN J. DELANEY and DAVID KESMODEL
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
December 23, 2005; Page B1
The Philadelphia Eagles aren't the only football franchise turning in a disappointing
performance this season. Some Web sites offering fantasy football have suffered from
outages and other glitches that have left many players infuriated.
Consider Fahim Ahmad in Durham, N.C., who tried a new free service from Walt Disney
Co.'s ESPN.com this year. In fantasy football, fans draft their own teams of pro players,
earning points based on the players' real-life performances. The Web sites track users'
scores and provide related news and statistics. But Mr. Ahmad, 27, and his friends
couldn't access ESPN's site to view lineups and scores during the first few weeks of the
football season, which started in September.
"I guess ESPN just didn't expect fantasy to be so big this year," says Mr. Ahmad. He was
so frustrated that he later transferred his league to a rival service. ESPN.com says it has
since corrected the site's errors.
Technology and media companies such as Yahoo Inc., Electronic Arts Inc. and ESPN
have piled into fantasy football, attracted by fanatical users who can drop hundreds of
dollars a year to see who is the best armchair general manager. For the companies, it
doesn't hurt that the players are typically young, college-educated males with plenty of
disposable income, a dream demographic for many advertisers.
But consumers' reactions to the recent site hiccups illustrate how expectations for Internet
services are rising. The expansion of fantasy sports has brought mainstream users who
want the same availability of the sites as they would of their telephone or television --
expectations some fantasy sports sites concede they aren't always able to meet.
Fantasy leagues have been around for decades, but exploded in popularity once the
Internet made it easy to keep statistics centrally and update