Fantasy Football’s Mobile Growth Pushes Sports Publishers to Revamp Apps

Brands still slow to shift investments

Thanks largely to a major cultural shift from desktop to mobile media, fantasy football diehards are already obsessively checking their smartphones as NFL training camps push forward. And publishers are ready for the rush with revamped mobile apps. 

ESPN has reconfigured its fantasy football game experience for an on-the-go consumer after it saw 68 percent of its overall digital traffic last year come from mobile. Its fantasy football players’ mobile activity doubled over the last two seasons.

Not only will players be able to set up leagues and mock draft talent through mobile, but also enhanced features to be unveiled in August will let users’ social circles comment and “outright ridicule” their decision-making process via the app, said George Leimer, ESPN vp of fantasy games. “You can literally play fantasy football this year without touching your desktop.” has also retooled its mobile platform, enabling live drafting—with plans to introduce an app called Fantasy Draft Kit during the first week of August. In 2013, three out of four of its players used’s mobile app, up 33 percent from 2012. Users jumped 45 percent year over year, which means the app is drawing new users.

But, while the users shift to mobile, brands are still slow to shift their investments, eMarketer mobile senior analyst Catherine Boyle said. “The eyeballs [move to the platform] first and then the money follows,” she explained.

UM svp Tim Hill notes that marketers drastically undervalue the mobile fantasy football space. Four out of five players are male and tend to be a younger crowd—one of the hardest demographics to reach, per the agency’s research. The average fantasy player checks four to six Web destinations for information, on top of the site or mobile app that hosts his or her team.

Because most brands are slow to adapt to mobile, forward-leaning companies will win if they embrace it now, added Hill. “There’s a bigger opportunity to have ownership of apps and platforms, and there’s less clutter within the ad formats than there is with desktop,” he said.

RotoWire chief Peter Schoenke, however, argued that brands are starting to come around. The success of RotoWire’s play—similarly named to CBS' as it's dubbed Fantasy Football Draft Kit— as the top selling fantasy football iOS app in 2013 helped secure as a sponsor this year. “Brands value those customers who show they’ll pay for a product,” said Schoenke. expects to attract more advertisers than it did last year and has secured Jack Link’s Beef Jerky. “There’s been fantastic interest already,” said Jonathan Dube, general manager.

Meanwhile, ESPN has at least 10 sponsors lined up for this season, including Wiser’s Whiskey and BMW, which will feature a big mobile component in its overall fall campaign, according to a source.

ESPN fantasy analyst Matthew Berry has an alternative theory on players’ migration to mobile: “In order to compete and play well, you need to do that in the three minutes when your wife isn’t looking.”

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