As fantasy sports' popularity rises among the public, David Ward finds that media outlets ranging from the business press to radio stations are increasingly getting into the game.For a hobby that began among statistics-obsessed sports fans working with pencil and paper, fantasy sports is quickly developing into a mass-market phenomenon. The Fantasy Sports Trade Association estimates that last year more than 15 million people - 7.2% of US adults - played in some fantasy league, where their success is determined by the performance of real-life players chosen in preseason drafts. Twelve million people are currently playing fantasy football this fall. With this growth, much of it driven by online fantasy hosting services offered by ESPN.com, CBSSportsline.com, and Yahoo Sports, fantasy sports has evolved from a technology story into more traditional sports coverage. But that in many ways has made the PR work surrounding fantasy sports a bit more difficult, despite the fact that many newspapers, websites, and radio and TV outlets now have weekly coverage, at least during football season. "It's really hard to squeeze into consumer writing because what you usually find is that writers coin themselves as fantasy experts, [advising] who to start and who to play, so it's hard to get them to add your expert in as well," explains Alex Riethmiller, CBS.Sportsline.com's manager of corporate communications/ media relations. Radio is a receptive target One exception to that, Riethmiller adds, is sports radio. "Radio works really well because you have a lot of sports stations looking for content they know their listeners want to hear about, and fantasy sports is certainly one of those. Our top two writers go on about 10 stations a week." Greg Ambrosius, editor of Fantasy Sports magazine, as well as founder and president of the hobby's trade association, adds, "We do ESPN Radio Sunday night during the baseball season. It's good for people to hear a voice or see a face that's associated with the publication." Ambrosius launched the first magazine devoted to fantasy sports back in 1989. "Even within our own company there were doubters that this could be a real industry," he says. Now there are more than a dozen fantasy football annuals that come out before the season and, Ambrosius notes, many fans read several of them before they select players. But PR pros privately say these niche titles usually either have a major website as a sponsor or as a major advertiser, and thus are reluctant to review other online fantasy sports services. So far, the fantasy phenomenon has been primarily limited to football and, to a lesser extent, baseball, although there are leagues in other sports such as basketball, hockey, golf, soccer, and NASCAR. Rick Liebling, account supervisor with Alan Taylor Communications (ATC), which represents Yahoo Sports, says the dedicated fantasy sports writer will do the occasional host-site review, especially at the beginning of football season. "The reporters will write that it's time to get your league together and here's what ESPN offers, here's what Yahoo offers, and they'll break down the services," he says. But Liebling adds much of his firm's efforts on behalf of Yahoo's fantasy leagues have been to raise awareness among more general sports reporters. "We held a live event in New York in July that featured New York Giants running back Tiki Barber offering somewhat tongue-and-cheek tips for fantasy players," he says. "Tip number one was to draft Tiki." "We also provided T-shirts to select players during training camp that have "Draft Me" and "Yahoo Sports" on them to generate buzz," he adds. "That way when they got interviewed coming on or off the field, the message was there." Drawing business-press interest Bret Werner, a VP at ATC, says women's lifestyle outlets have shown little interest even in a primer explaining to women what their spouse or boyfriend is doing poring over sports statistics for hours each week. But he adds, "What I have seen is interest in the business story. For companies like Sportsline and Yahoo, fantasy is a big revenue stream, so from that angle it's a viable story." But even within the business press, Riethmiller says you have to pick your targets carefully. "When you go to the traditional business publications, you need really gaudy numbers," he says. "But at other times we've had success with dailies such as The Wall Street Journal, which is always looking for an offbeat story with financial figures." ----- Pitching...fantasy sports Most fantasy sports writers focus strictly on which players to draft and which to play during the season, so pitch them well before the regular season begins. Look for a financial angle and target the business/technology press with a trend story on the money it generates for sites. Look to get local sports journalists to participate in a nationwide league hosted by your company or site. They're far more likely to cover their own performance in the league.
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