CBS Corp., in a move aimed at boosting its share of the nearly billion-dollar fantasy-sports business, is opening up its CBS Sports website so outside developers can create apps geared toward fantasy enthusiasts.
Fantasy sports, where participants assemble teams of pro athletes and compete based on their players' real-life performance, has become a critical traffic driver for sports websites. Most fantasy leagues are hosted by a small group of websites including Yahoo Sports, ESPN.com and CBSSports.com. But an ecosystem of smaller websites draws enthusiasts by offering analysis and other tools to help them win their fantasy leagues.
CBS Sports executives are now hoping to create a hub for this universe of mom-and-pop fantasy operators by letting them build products that will live on CBSSports.com. The site will offer free and paid apps, with CBSSports.com keeping a 30% share of sales of paid ones.
CBSSports.com is opening up its website so outside developers can create apps geared toward fantasy enthusiasts, Russell Adams reports on digits.
"The target audience for any one of these [products] is relatively niche," said Jim Lanzone, president of CBS Interactive. "We just happen to have a big platform that people can plug into."
About $800 million is spent annually on fantasy games and related products, mostly online, according to a study that market-research firm Ipsos conducted back in 2008. About a quarter of that was for ancillary products like those sold by smaller vendors. Participation has surged over the years as fantasy sports has grown from a hobby for statistics-obsessed baseball fans to a mainstream activity.
In reengineering the site, which was scheduled to open to developers on Monday, CBSSports.com is trying to emulate the success that Apple Inc., Facebook Inc. and others have had by creating a breeding ground for products in news, games and music. Facebook's efforts in recent years to offer tools for outside developers helped launch start-ups like social-game maker Zynga Inc., which in turn drives an enormous amount of traffic to the social-networking giant.
Initially, CBSSports.com will feature apps from a handful of launch partners including Major League Baseball and Bloomberg LP. One of the apps, from MLB's Web company, will automatically show the live game footage that is most relevant to subscribers' fantasy teams.
The leading sports sites have made big investments in recent years to become go-to sources for news and analysis. But commodity content like scores and statistics, including fantasy, still accounts for the lion's share of traffic to these sites. CBSSports.com attracted an average of 17.6 million unique visitors in 2011, according to comScore, putting it sixth among online sports properties. CBSSports.com says the users who spend the most time on the site are the ones who play fantasy.
Football is by far the most popular fantasy sport, with nearly three-quarters of the 29.6 million fantasy players in the U.S. participating, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. CBSSports.com has differentiated itself from competitors in that it charges people to play in its leagues, a distinction executives and partners say makes for a user base more likely to spend on apps. "Their fantasy players are a different ilk than the more general fantasy player," said Bob Bowman, chief executive of MLB Advanced Media.