Fantasy Football: A Game of Seconds

Fantasy Football Web Performance

It’s that time of the year again. A time that justifies all the backyard BBQs and beach days you missed to prepare. A time when a summer spent dedicated to research and analysis will finally pay off. A time filled with unbridled hope and optimism that ‘this is your year’ . . . it’s time for Fantasy Football.

Okay, forgive the hyperbole, but right now is a pretty exciting time for anyone who plays Fantasy Football – and that’s a lot of people – myself included. The NFL season begins this week – meaning that more than 26 million Fantasy Football players in the US and Canada will get another crack at their league championship – up from a meager 6 million in 2005. The growth of fantasy sports over the last decade can be most readily attributed to the emergence of websites that allow players to effortlessly create and manage their fantasy teams and leagues. This ready-access has been so successful that the fantasy industry generated close to $1 billion in profits last year, is experiencing 10% year-over-year growth and can claim 1 in 12 Internet users as a participant in an online fantasy league.

It’s really no wonder how Fantasy Sports grew to a $1 billion market so quickly when you look at the demographics of the average fantasy player – 33 years old, male, with an average household income of $92,750 who spends roughly $470 a year on fantasy-related purchases and another 3 hours a week managing his team. This is a match made in heaven for advertisers – a fact not lost on the website owners and operators. Advertising costs on popular fantasy sites like CBSSports.com, Yahoo Sports, ESPN.com and NFL.com range from $750,000 advertising space on high-traffic pages to $3 million for a full-season sponsorships.

Today’s most successful fantasy sites have already recognized the revenue their audiences represent and are making the investments needed to retain and continue to grow their user bases. These top sites go beyond simply providing players with an easy way to set up and run their leagues – they have become host to voluminous amounts of fantasy content and data designed to give players an edge in everything from drafting strategies and player rankings to how to appropriately trash talk opponents. Fantasy players are eating it up and, as a result, advertisers are jumping at the chance to market to such a desirable audience. Sure, Seth Godin would probably argue that Fantasy Football is just another way for mass marketers to sell us a new car (jump to the 5:20 mark of this video) – but it’s still a really fun way for marketers to sell us a new car – and if keeps league costs down, or better yet makes it all together free to play, I’m all for it.

However, as with any other online service created to generate revenue, performance is critical – for both the individual fantasy players and advertisers. Ironically enough, site performance is one of the most common complaints amongst fantasy players – and for good reason. Below are just few examples of the major outages and performance problems Fantasy players have had to endure over the years:

  • After the 2006 NFL season CBS actually issued an apology letter to players, who paid to use the CBS fantasy Football platform, for a season plagued by performance issues and outages – promising improvements for the following year
  • On Sunday, October 4, 2009 ESPN experienced a complete outage of their fantasy service – preventing players from accessing their accounts, updating lineups and checking scores – many users turned to social media to vent their frustrations
  • On Sunday, November 11, 2012 Yahoo’s Fantasy site went down just before 1PM ET kickoff – preventing fantasy players from accessing their teams – again resulting in outrage across the Web and social media

An outage or significant slowdown is the kiss of death for fantasy players – especially in the precious few minutes before kickoff when many are finalizing their lineup for the week, substituting injured players or picking up replacements off the waiver wire. More often than not you need to replace an injured player right before kickoff as his status changes from questionable to out. Site outages or slowdowns at key times on Thursdays, Sundays and Monday can literally cost fantasy Football players the season, which often pushes them to alternate services the following season – in turn hurting revenue for site owners. This is why performance monitoring and testing needs to play a substantial role in ensuring the user experience of fantasy website visitors. Imagine the increased traffic and stress an ecommerce site experiences on Cyber Monday, or what a tax preparation site withstands leading up to April 15th …. Now imagine seeing similar volumes every Sunday for 16 straight weeks.

To provide a little more insight into just how well fantasy websites are performing today, AlertSite ran a series of benchmark tests against five popular fantasy football services.  We measured how long it took to actually log into the service to get a better idea of how quickly a player could get access to his or her account – because on any given Sunday the time it takes to log into your account can be the difference between a win and a loss.

We ran the measurements from July 21 through August 31 – the week before the start of the NFL season:

CumulativeAverage-response-times

 

Average-response-times

While it’s clear that response times began to rise as the NFL season drew closer the data shows some encouraging trends. The majority of log-in response times spiked in weeks 3 and 4 of our test, however, with the exception of NFL.com, weeks 5 and 6 showed the fastest log-in times for each service over the 6 week analysis. As any fantasy player know, the final two weeks before the start of the season is crunch time – when final analysis and preparations are made and the majority of live drafts take place. Seeing response times decline when these sites were surely experiencing higher traffic is a strong indicator that they are proactively managing possible performance problems.

Even more encouraging is the fact that almost every service that saw a spike in log-in response time heading into August was able to considerably reduce it going into September. Msn.foxports.com and Espn.com were able to shave roughly 3.5 and 2.2 seconds off their respective log-in times from week 3 to week 6. Hopefully this shows that fantasy sites are paying attention to performance and taking the necessary steps to ensure a quality user experience – but we really can’t know until we have a season free of serious slowdowns and outages.

The goal of providing an excellent user experience is certainly top of mind for one fantasy service. CBSSports.com, who issued a formal apology to fans for their performance woes in 2006, is now running this radio spot:

It’s a bold move to go after competitors’ performance but our AlertSite benchmark results back it up – CBSSports was the best fantasy option based on our testing. Of course CBS also charges a fee to use their service which may make Yahoo Sports, which came in second (just under 2.5 seconds slower) in our overall results a viable alternative for many fantasy players.

Wherever you decide to play I’d urge all the fantasy football owners out there to pay attention to the performance of their service as the year rolls on – and make a note of the slowdowns and outages that affect your ability to manage your team. Let your site know, whether through social media or the ‘Contact Us’ page, when performance isn’t meeting your standards. The reality is that the tools to make your fantasy experience better are available to site operators and it’s up to you to make sure they’re held accountable.

Football may be a game of inches, but fantasy football is a game of seconds.

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Comments

  1. I remember the 11/11/2012 debacle like it was yesterday. You’ve never seen panic like the look on the face of that fantasy owner who needs to make a change to the roster but just. Can’t.. do… It!

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