Welcome to FL!

It’s sort of code hopping, but the other way this time.

As FanFooty nears its tenth anniversary of existence, providing live statistics and liveblogging for a generation of fantasy Australian rules football fans, it’s long past time that we expanded out into other codes. I lived in Sydney for five years in the late 1990s, so I know first hand about the passion that rugby league fans have for their code, and it seems that it has finally translated into a decent fantasy community who need places online to research, immerse and just hang out. Hopefully, FanLeague can be that home for some of you out there.

So what will FanLeague be? It will follow the same path as FanFooty, not surprisingly. As the coach of a fantasy team, you need a quick, reliable, easily searchable source of data to figure out which players to buy, trade and sell. On weekends, you want the scores and news about your players in real time without paywalls, and maybe you’d enjoy jawboning with some other like-minded fans about things and stuff. As a wise person once told me about FanFooty: fans “come for the stats, stay for the chats”. Wish I’d thought of that line! It sums up our philosophy: our core is the live scoring (60% of our traffic), blogs and match reports (5%), historical player stats (5%), special bandwidth-light mobile pages (5%), with the balance staying on the front page which acts as an expanded scoreboard on weekends… plus the forums which are 7% and rising, especially during the week.

All of these features will also be provided for FanLeague. The FL database has NRL Fantasy, NRL Dream Team and NRL Supercoach statistics since round 1, 2011. I couldn’t find a source for detailed stats before then… in fact there may not even be records that exist from that time, at least not for all of the stats that go into making fantasy scores in rugby league. That will have to do for now – and it should be enough to draw useful conclusions about player types.

Over the years, the way FF works has changed, and things will be slightly different in FL. For one thing, I won’t be doing much of the liveblogging myself, so I’ll need some help from the community to fill in the gaps of stuff that FF users take for granted. I have developed certain habits for the method to liveblog AFL which the other bloggers in that code have adopted under my instruction, but I reckon there will be different requirements in rugby league so I will have to work it through with the league livebloggers. And yes, I do pay contributors. Get paid to watch rugby league, is there anything better?! More on that in future posts.

It was only four years ago that Pete Jankulovski – the creator of Dream Team and (until recently) operator of the official fantasy games for both NRL and AFL, among others – got up in front of the suits at the Digital Sport Summit and said that AFL was 80% of the fantasy industry.

That is no longer the case, with AFL competitions dropping in subscriber numbers for a few years now, and NRL jumping significantly since a revamp in scoring systems a few years ago. I was happy to see the moves to increase the amount of scoring stats, and make the scoring more granular – in other words, to make a good score 50 or 60 rather than 6 or 8, which makes it more interesting. Such is the turnaround that if the two graphs continue at their current convergent shape, NRL fantasy will have more fans than AFL fantasy by 2016! This is despite the furore around the buggy launch to NRL Fantasy 2014 which led to a second parallel comp being set up. Appetite for rugby league fantasy is just that strong at the moment. While the AFL competitions have struggled to deal with the loss of momentum from the recent advent of mid-season byes, rugby league fans are well used to that and seem to take it in their stride.

This is not really surprising, when you think about it. Rugby league is a game built for television, with its small window of action, and fantasy is a game built for the two-screen experience, with viewers switching their attention from the TV to their mobile, tablet or desktop to check the progress of the stars they “own”. Sydney has had an historic problem with crowd numbers at sporting contests due to the way the city is structured – harbour inlets and rivers get in the way of smooth traffic flow, and the public transport system is rather inferior. It’s often way easier to make the decision to watch at home or the local pub, rather than make the annoying and laborious trip across town to watch your team in the flesh. This is not to criticise. It’s just the way the town is.

All of this means that FanLeague is a site I should have made years ago. Better late than never?

Note: it should be pointed out that FanLeague will most likely follow the policy I have set down for FanFooty of refusing to take gambling advertising. I decided to institute that policy a few years ago now when I did a survey of the FF audience and discovered around half of them were of school age. I am not a wowser or anti-gambling crusader by any means, but I was uncomfortable with my site being a vehicle to normalise gambling to minors, because I can see how the psychology of fantasy sports is similar to the “game” of gambling. To be completely open about the decision: it was also based on a suspicion that government would eventually crack down on gambling advertising, so I thought avoiding a dependency on gambling ad revenue would be in my interests as well. Anyway, the result is that FF is one of the few sporting media outlets where you will not see a gambling sponsor/partner dominating screen real estate. I am not sure if FL will attract the same sort of audience, but I suspect it will and thus I think I will be implementing a similar ban.