16th jun, 2013

Fantasy sports – an invention “thrown away”

Each year the Danish Super league (football/soccer) starts out I join 25.000 other Danes in setting my own dream team and competing in a national Fantasy football league.

I actually didn’t know the history of fantasy sorts before I saw an ESPN documentary the other day called “Silly Little Game”.

Fantasy sports is huge. In the US alone there are 140 companies the industry with a market size estimated to over 35 million Americans earning between 3-4 billion $. In the UK there are 5-7 million players. So the industry is quite big.

This industry was started out by a group of friends meeting do talk baseball and brought to life by a guy called David Okrent. Their game “Rotisserie League Baseball” ended up being very popular both with the many players and the media.

Despite having started a completely new industry the friends ended up with nothing. Why was that?

From the documentary it is clear that although the inventors of the game were passionate about their invention they lacked understanding on how to recognize and develop their product. If they had kept up with possibilities and new technologies it could have been them on top of the industry. But they didn’t – they had other careers (Okrent being a sports reporter) and didn’t commit to the potential new business. Furthermore when they began trying to protect their budding business they did it by force sending out cease and desist letters. This caused the industry and players to move away from the name – rotisserie league – and invent the name Fantasy baseball. Rules of the game is not protected so others could use the same idea and create a new name for the game.  And the rest is billion dollar business history…

What could have turned the Rotisserie League Baseball into a viable business and potential industry standard is three points.

·         If you want to pursue a new invention commit to making it successful.

·         Keep developing the product and keep ahead of the competition the best product wins

·         Think about your legal position before taking out the cease and desist club. Alliances with partner companies could help your product to a status as an industry standard.

Some would argue that this is a case demonstrating the weaknesses of IP and that the market works better without IP. I would argue that IP could have been used to build a company that would be at the front of the 140 companies offering fantasy sports products.

Researching this post I came across a nice article about the legal issues in fantasy sports – When Fantasy Meets the Courtroom – read it here.


Hi Kristian

Interestingly, of your three points, the first two don’t relate to artificial monopolies at all, and the third one only does so in a negative way (translated: don’t try to push a dubious attempt at artificial monopoly).

For once I agree with your points completely 🙂


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