A welcome new trend: fantasy-friendly stadiums-Steve A. Gardner, USA TODAY
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Posted by: Meg Van Petten
SAN FRANCISCO — Contrary to popular belief, fantasy sports players do have a life that extends beyond the confines of their basements. And, yes, it goes even further than the well-worn path to the kitchen.
We do get out occasionally. Sometimes we go all the way across the country ... and meet up with other fantasy sports fanatics.
Once a year, I grant myself the poetic license to step away from the numbers and trends in fantasy baseball to take a larger look at the industry. The week of the annual Fantasy Sports Trade Association summer conference is the perfect time to do it.
This year, we descended on the Bay Area, home to arguably the two best teams in baseball. But, of course, no one wanted to talk about baseball because it's almost time for fantasy football season to begin.
One of the most interesting things from the conference was a panel discussion on what NFL teams are now doing to cater to fantasy owners as they make their plans to build new stadiums.
The challenge, according to Steve LaCroix, chief marketing officer of the Minnesota Vikings, is persuading fantasy players to "get off your couch and come to the game." That's no small feat as the experience of watching at home keeps getting better and better.
Those of us who have grown up playing fantasy sports — even before we could afford to go to the games in person — have grown accustomed to having cool new toys at our disposal, from live fantasy scoring to Red Zone channels.
Throw in a little more disposable income and we're no longer blogging from the basement, but from a luxurious man cave. Who in his right mind would want to leave?
The San Francisco 49ers will be making a similar transition this football season, moving from Candlestick Park into new Levi's Stadium. In order to compete with man caves throughout Northern California, the Niners will offer fans at the game access to a fantasy sports lounge, sponsored by Yahoo.
With a capacity of 1,400 to 1,600 people, it will have charging stations and touch-screen technology and will allow fantasy owners to access their rosters on game day. There's something empowering about seeing Frank Gore stumble during pregame warm-ups and having the power to bench him right from his own home stadium.
Hmmm. That just might start coaxing the turtles out of their shells. But what about while they're sitting at the game? Fantasy owners still want to check scores and stats of other games.
"Great Wi-Fi is a must," says Ethan Casson, the Niners' chief revenue officer.
He also says charging stations will be available for customers waiting in line for concessions. And if your phone battery is dying while you're watching the game, you can have a portable charger brought to your seat.
While it's great to make sure everyone stays connected, there's another detail to take into consideration. There is an actual game going on.
How connected do we want (or need) to be at the stadium? That's a valid question, but remember ... there's a lot of dead time during the game. Change of possession. Replay reviews. Halftime. All those TV commercials.
Even the most reclusive fantasy owner might actually enjoy watching a game in person if many of the comforts of home are still close at hand.
Battle of the fantasy sports
It seems appropriate that San Francisco's NFL team is on the leading edge of technology since the home of MLB's Giants — AT&T Park — was the first in professional sports to offer universal Wi-Fi to all fans in attendance in 2004.
Again, baseball is there first. The NFL just happens to do it bigger and bolder.
Comparisons become inevitable, especially at a fantasy sports conference. Baseball vs. football. Football vs. baseball. They go together like ... San Francisco and Oakland.
-- Fantasy football is all about draft position, while fantasy baseball is all about draft strategy.
As I noticed taking part in the FSTA experts football draft, where you are in a football draft has a significant impact on the way your team is built. Pick at the top and you're likely to be stronger at running back. Teams picking at the end will lean toward wide receivers.
In fantasy baseball, auction drafts are much more common. They allow owners to construct their teams in any number of ways. Plus, there are more positions to manage, which requires greater overall skill.
-- Fantasy football owners hate to see their team punt; fantasy baseball owners hate to see their team bunt.
There's nothing more annoying than giving up prematurely. Come on, strategic geniuses! Show some faith in your offense. Let's see some balls in play.
The more aggressive the game plan, the better it is for fantasy owners. And what is it about teams that play in Denver? The Broncos set an NFL record with 606 points last season, and the Rockies lead the National League and are second in the majors in runs per game.
There must be something in the air up there that makes their teams so high scoring.
-- Fantasy football owners dread having to rely on the arm of Tony Romo; fantasy baseball owners have concerns about the arm of Sergio Romo.
The Dallas Cowboys quarterback finished fifth in the NFL last season with 31 touchdown passes, but his habit of making key turnovers at inopportune times have made him seem more unreliable than he actually has been.
The San Francisco Giants closer has struggled recently — he went nearly two weeks without picking up a save and posted an 11.00 ERA in a one-month span. His WHIP was an excellent 0.99, however, and he's striking out four times as many batters as he's walking.
They might be frustrating to own, but both veterans still can be effective.
Of course, there also are significant differences between fantasy football and fantasy baseball.
With apologies to the late George Carlin (who reminded us that "football is played on a gridiron, in a stadium, sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium" while "baseball is played on a diamond, in the park!"), here are a few differences between the two sports, fantasy-style.
-- Fantasy football has ... running back handcuffs. Fantasy baseball has ... closers-in-waiting.
-- After contact, fantasy football owners want extra YAC. After contact, fantasy baseball owners hope for extra ribbies.
-- Fantasy football is contested ... head to head. Mano a mano. Fantasy baseball is played ... "rotisserie style."
-- The New York Jets are coached by Rex Ryan (Grrr!) and feature a "ground-and-pound" attack. The New York Mets are managed by some guy named Terry and have an offense led by Mr. Wright, also known as Captain America.
-- Fantasy football owners' biggest headache is ... the touchdown vulture. Fantasy baseball owners' worst nightmare is ... the blown save.
-- Fantasy football finishes with two teams facing each other for the championship. In fantasy baseball, everyone plays all the way to the final day.
From a fantasy standpoint, football and baseball are decidedly different games. Yet they still have much in common. In a way, it's similar to the relationship between the two cities in the Bay Area.
To conclude, a prediction: The football season will end with a title for San Francisco. The baseball season will end with a championship for Oakland.
Submit your football/baseball comparisons and follow Gardner on Twitter:@SteveAGardner