The Breeders’ Cup Forum: Fantasy ‘Capping Returns

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Breeders’ Cup joined the fantasy sports world in 2012 with Fantasy ‘Capping, an easy-to-follow competition on the road to the Breeders’ Cup championships in November. The brainchild of Airdrie Stud’s Bret Jones, Fantasy ‘Capping was brought to the Breeders’ Cup by the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association’s Vision 2020, an under-40 industry leadership group.

Justin McDonald, vice president of marketing and digital media for Breeders’ Cup, provided an update on year two of Fantasy ‘Capping, which begins with Saturday’s Whitney Handicap from Saratoga and continues through the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 2. Leagues can be formed any time between now and the Breeders’ Cup. Click here for more information.

If you don’t want to form your own league, the Paulick Report invites you to “Play Against Ray.” That’s the league name – Play Against Ray – and use paulickreport as the password needed to join the league. We’ll have some fun and prizes for the top three finishers (to the equine charity of your choice, $200 to the winner, $100 to second place, $50 to third).

We’re on the eve of the second year of Fantasy ‘Capping, a fantasy league that follows the road to the Breeders’ Cup. For those who didn’t join a league or start their own league last year, how does it work?
Fantasy ‘Capping allows fans to engage weekly with the best races leading up to, and including, the Breeders’ Cup. More importantly it provides a fun, easy and exciting way for fans to get their friends involved in our great game.

Here’s how it works: fans can create their own private league and invite their friends to play against them to see who is the best handicapper. Or they can join a public league and play against other random racing fans.

Then, every week Fantasy ‘Capping spotlights the best race(s) and players get to make one of four fantasy wagers on that race(s). We wanted to keep it really easy to understand – to be sure we don’t scare off new fans – so we limited the weekly fantasy wagering options to $20 Win, $20 Place, $20 Show or a $10 Exacta Box ($20 total). No matter how you do each week, you always can make one of those four fantasy wagers each week.

The scoring is very straightforward: whatever your fantasy wager pays out at the track is what you get in fantasy dollars. Each week your Fantasy Earnings accumulate to tally your total score which is used to rank players in each league. We also have a Global Leaderboard that ranks all players in the game and we provide cash and other prizes to the top 10 players at the end of the season.

We’ve purposely kept it tied directly to the pari-mutuel system so that we can educate new fans along the way and help them be more comfortable should they go out to their local track and play for real.

How big in general are fantasy sports in the U.S. and overseas?
According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA), there are approximately 35 million fantasy players in the U.S. and Canada.  Strong growth is continuing in terms of new players.  However, much of the innovation in the industry is occurring with respect to new categories of games (e.g. MMA, horse racing) and daily fantasy games which enable fans to play for cash, especially applicable to baseball.

How did year one do in terms of the number of leagues and players?
We were happy with the participation in year one which saw approximately 7,000 teams sign up and play. The most encouraging part was the player feedback we received in our post-game survey: 98% said they would like to see the game improved and continued in 2013; 74% said they enjoyed it a lot; 56% said they would definitely encourage more of their friends to play next year; 34% said the game increased their interest in the Breeders’ Cup and 21% said they are more likely to place a real wager on a horse race after playing the game.

When we decided last year to invest in building this game with Vision 20/20 we knew we had to give it 3-4 years to really catch on and cross over to the mainstream fantasy market. Now that the game is built and tested we can really focus on bringing in new fans over the next couple of years.

Who is participating? Experienced handicappers? Friends of horseplayers who may play in other fantasy leagues? Does it skew heavily male like traditional sports fantasy leagues?
Not unexpectedly, year one skewed toward the core racing fan and like other fantasy sports, the player base was heavily male (roughly 80%/20% male-to-female ratio). Since the players last year enjoyed the game so much we’re counting on them to bring more of their non-racing friends to try it out this year. That’s the best way for us to get new fans engaged and expose them to great summer and fall racing, all leading up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 2.

We’ve built this game as a platform for our fans to use with their friends and we’re hopeful over time participation will grow by multiples. We also see an opportunity to convert other fantasy sports players into Fantasy ‘Capping and horse racing fans.

What’s new with the game in 2013?
We’ve made a few exciting changes to the game this year. First, we removed the restriction on the number of teams a private league can have. We heard from a few fans and industry leaders that they would like to have unlimited teams in their league so they could invite all of their fans/followers can compete against them. So we changed that and now people like you can have literally thousands of teams playing in their league to see who is the best fantasy ‘capper.

We also decided to create a special double-header in Week 4 featuring the Travers on Saturday and the Pacific Classic on Sunday. Last year we really tried to stick to only featuring races on Saturdays for continuity purposes, but you really can’t talk about having the best summer races without including the Pacific Classic. We think adding this special double-header weekend will add even more excitement to the game.

Lastly, we made a few tweaks to the user interface to help simplify registration, login and overall game navigation.

Chris Russo, a guru of fantasy leagues who helped make the NFL’s fantasy league so popular, has been retained to advise the Breeders’ Cup. What role will he be playing, and what are his earliest observations about Fantasy ‘Capping?
We’re extremely fortunate and excited to be working with Chris who is one of the leaders in the fantasy/digital industry. Chris is advising Breeders’ Cup on Fantasy ‘Capping as well as other general initiatives in the digital space. He believes that Fantasy Capping can be a great fan engagement vehicle because it combines many of the elements that make fantasy popular in other sports: allows players to demonstrate their skill and knowledge, promotes camaraderie and competition among friends, incorporates “statistics” and analysis, and includes an easy-to-play format.

He also believes that there is a big opportunity for Breeders’ Cup to build new digital ventures that may consist of new fantasy games, social media programs, and second screen applications which provide live content on mobile devices/tablets to complement Breeders’ Cup TV broadcasts.

What’s the goal with Fantasy ‘Capping short- and long-term?
We think that Fantasy ‘Capping will play an important role in new fan development and education in the long run. If you think about a funnel of fan cultivation, this game would fall right in the middle and help move fans from a new/casual level to more engaged and active participants, ideally via real pari-mutuel wagering.

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  • zchairman

    WOW, that’s going to bring fans in like crazy—I hope there enough seats in the grandstand for all of them!!! Just kidding of course.

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