Fantasy Gaming Sites Get Competitive

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Fantasy football season is coming, and it seems the fanatics who play these games are not the only ones looking for a winning season. Two top fantasy gaming sites, and, have kicked off the fantasy football draft season with aggressive marketing efforts.

CBSSportsline made a marketing splash last week by announcing that John Elway will be the site's spokesman for fantasy football season. He will be featured in television and radio commercials as well as write a monthly column and participate in online chats.

While signing the future Hall of Fame quarterback is a coup for the site, its biggest marketing push began last month when it announced that the service -- which previously was $100 for a league of up to 20 players or $19.95 per player -- would be free.

CBSSportsline is expected to announce another new feature today. It has formed a strategic alliance with Internet telephony provider and site sponsor that will allow players to communicate PC to phone or PC to PC.

"We're interested in things that will help enhance the site for the consumer. The idea is to make the experience on the site even more interactive," said Kathy Bradley, spokeswoman at CBSSportsline, Fort Lauderdale, FL.

There was speculation that the site stopped charging because competitor offers similar games for free, but Bradley said this was not the case.

"The decision was based on the fact that this gives us an opportunity to reach more users," she said. "This creates a stronger advertising platform."

Sandbox, the self-proclaimed No. 1 gaming site, sees this move as an interesting one. "Sportsline took the free route this year because they realize they can attract a much wider audience and generate larger marketing and advertising revenue by offering the free game," said Mike Sweeney, director of marketing at Sandbox, Reston, VA. "We're still No. 1 in the space, but they're definitely a threat."

Sandbox has invested $1 million in marketing its fantasy football games this season. Its radio and print efforts will launch Aug. 14. Ads will appear on national radio and in print in ESPN: The Magazine, The Sporting News and a variety of fantasy football magazines. Online, it is running 150 million banner ad impressions.

The site also will host a number of promotions. Its Coaches Clipboard contest will give $1 million to the person who picks the best performers at each position. Its Pro Picks competition will give $100,000 weekly to the person who picks the winners of all of the week's NFL games correctly.

Why are these sites going all out to attract the largest audience? Because advertisers are eager to reach fantasy football players: typically age 18 to 54, well-educated and in a high income bracket. What's more, they generally check their fantasy site of choice dozens of times each week, Bradley said.

"It's an attractive audience," she said. "And they check the site frequently. In our case, our statistics update instantly so a player will keep coming back to the site to see how many receptions Jerry Rice had and for how many yards."

Sandbox has 4 million players of its fantasy games, which include baseball, basketball and other leagues. It said more than 500,000 members took part in fantasy football. CBSSportsline had 400,000 fantasy football players last year, although Bradley expects this number to "dramatically escalate" because of the free offer.

She also said Sandbox's member count sounded "suspect" and cited May's Media Metrix results. "We had 4.2 million unique visitors for the month of May. Sandbox had 1.2 million," she said.

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