I'm not sure why it's so addictive because, from an objective point of view, it's really geeky. You get a bunch of friends, sit around for three hours and draft real-life players onto your fantasy team. Then you compete against your friends to see whose team can compile the best scores based on the real-life statistics. Add in doses of trash-talking, taunting, elevated pride and burnt egos, and you get the idea of why there are 7 million fantasy sports players in the United States.
Broadband exacerbates my problem. My ballgame ritual has turned into more multitasking as I watch games with my laptop by my side. On my PC I load a live stat tracker, which feeds real-time player performance updates (thanks a lot, Yahoo) in one window, and then I launch another window to MLB.com that lets me watch any game live across the country. That means I can look at my stat tracker, see who's batting and then pull-up the live video feed to catch my batter striking out.
Notch MLB TV, as the live feed is called, as part of a growing list of ancillary fantasy sports spending--along with league fees, magazine draft guides and DirecTV sports packages, not to mention unwise side bets. That adds up to a hefty credit card bill--all for the greater satisfaction of bragging rights.
Since I cover MSN as part of my beat, Microsoft's decision to dish out about $40 million over two years to Major League Baseball for video streaming rights to live ball games seemed senseless. First of all, how did MLB get away with what seemed like highway robbery? Paying for live streaming video has never been a proven model, and the idea of watching games on a tiny window, or on a blurry full-screen, seemed unappealing. I was wrong.
Services like MLB TV, as it's called, should cause some media executives at News Corporation to lose sleep. Rupert Murdoch's empire now runs DirecTV and Fox--two outlets with considerable stakes in sports programming. DirecTV sells season packages for subscribers to watch games outside their home markets, while Fox has rights to many high-profile games on its own.
Sure, watching games on a big-screen TV is more gratifying than on a laptop. But at least you can get these games through a broadband connection at a fraction of the cost.
So as I spend this weekend on my couch juggling two screens and multiple windows on my PC, I'll try not to think what these companies will do in the future to tap my fantasy sports weakness. Heck, I've got more pressing worries?? like whether I can dig my team out of this deficit against my copy chief.