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NFL lockout's reality hits fantasy publishers

If you're heading out to the newsstands to pick up a fantasy football magazine to prepare for a draft, you might be surprised. Usually there are several magazines to choose from, but because of the NFL lockout, most aren't being produced this year. You'll be fortunate to find any.

The fantasy football value of players are based on their team, offensive systems and roles. But there are almost 500 free agents right now and NFL rosters are in turmoil.

The NFL lockout began March 11. If and when the lockout ends, there will be little time for teams to make moves, and producing a printed publication in that environment is difficult.

Some fantasy football magazines print as early as April. Most would hit newsstands in late May or early June, but with no free agency the past four months, the task of producing a magazine worth its value became difficult this year. The majority of companies believed it didn't make sense to do them.

"The biggest impact is the magazine industry,” said Paul Charchian, president of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association and LeagueSafe.com owner. “Pretty much nobody is doing them. The magazine needs to be on sale for at least a month to be profitable and free agency changes the value of so many players."

Fantasy Football Index sold more than 161,000 magazines last season, according to co-owner Bruce Taylor. This year they will not print a magazine for the first time since 1987.

"We will publish the magazine electronically in PDF format about three weeks after a CBA is signed," Taylor said "We offer a variety of electronic newsletter products and customized rankings, and we'll begin taking orders for those products as soon as the NFL and players make a deal and establish a league calendar. We will be back with ink-on-paper next year. The lockout definitely hurts us a lot. The magazine generates the lion's share of revenue for our business, so this year will be painful."

RotoWire printed 100,000 copies of their magazine last season. They only printed 5,000 for subscribers to the site this year.

"Football sales are definitely down," RotoWire.com president Peter Schoenke said. "The lack of free agency really hurt putting out a magazine. We lost potential advertisers. Most of the subscriptions for the site begin at the end of July. Hardcore players will always show up. It's the casual fans we might lose."

The latest study by the FSTA showed 36 million people in the United States and Canada play fantasy sports, with 75 percent of that number comprised from fantasy football. A 2008 studyshowed fantasy football generates $800 million per season on products and services.

It's still too early to tell how subscription-based web sites will be impacted, but in general there is a lack of activity.

"We are down only about 10 percent so far, which is obviously key, but interest is down in general," FantasyGuru.com owner John Hansen said.

"It's hard to tell because we typically make 70 percent of our revenues from August 1 on," Footballguys.com owner David Dodds said. "But the numbers are clearly off right now. The question is do they come back when this settles."

Most sites are still churning out the content and moving on as if the season will be played.

"For us, it is business as usual from the fantasy content perspective," said Scott Engel, Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hall of Famer and RotoExperts.com managing director said. "We are still rolling out our draft kit this month, and as news floods in when the lockout is over, we can revise and adjust. We just have to prepare on a different schedule this season. We are ready to give our readers what they demand as usual."

CBSSports.com Fantasy Commissioner is one of the big sites for fantasy football players to set up leagues. If the NFL has a shortened season, a CBSSports spokesperson said they will refund users a pro-rated amount reflecting the number of games missed . If there is a 12-game season, users will receive a 25 percent refund. If the NFL has to play a season of eight games or less, users will receive a full refund.

It's clear that people are hesitant to invest money without a guaranteed season.

"We are at about 35 percent of our sales compared to last year on this date," MyFantasyLeague.com President Mike Hall said. "So it is definitely affecting our numbers. I'm guessing most other fantasy football companies are experiencing the same type of reduced numbers at this point."
 

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