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Laid off lawyer launches unique cross-sport competition online
Question of the Day
Mr. Mergler took those words to heart. Armed with a modest severance package and a handful of online freelance-writing jobs, he figured he could turn his fantasy idea into a working, marketable product.
That was before he began working with his overseas developers.
A late 2009 deadline slipped into 2010. The programmers kept changing - competent ones leaving, incompetent ones arriving. The team kept asking for more money; in response, an increasingly frustrated Mr. Mergler demanded a functioning website.
Despite numerous late night and early morning Internet chats between Mr. Mergler and his team, the prototype site never worked correctly. Every fixed bug created a new problem. One day, the software reported that Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin had 17 rebounds in the previous night’s game. Problem was, Griffin actually had grabbed 12.
“It turned out that the programmer was taking the first half statistics and adding those to the final numbers at the end of the game,” Mr. Mergler said. “But I couldn’t read the computer code, so I had to go through the play-by-play of the entire game and look for context clues, just ‘MacGyver’ the numbers together.
“I was trouble-shooting their crappy work, and they couldn’t even tell me why it was crappy. Once in a blue moon it would work, and then a week later it wouldn’t anymore. It was like trying to build a sandcastle in the ocean, underwater, while holding your breath.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Mergler was facing additional pressures. His live-in fiancee, Mary, had been laid off from her legal job. His severance money was running out. His freelance-writing gigs - which actually paid less than unemployment benefits - were drying up.
One night shortly after his October 2010 wedding, Mr. Mergler was too stressed to sleep. Curious and a bit paranoid, he Googled the name of his fantasy project, “League of Leagues,” coming across a link to a podcast hosted by popular sportswriters and fantasy enthusiasts Dave Dameshek and Jonah Keri.
Mr. Mergler slipped on his headphones. His jaw dropped. Mr. Keri and Mr. Dameshek were discussing a multisport fantasy league they hoped to found called … the League of Leagues.
“My idea is more an evolution than a revolution,” Mr. Mergler said. “But to hear the specificity of it, to have the actual name coming through my ears? I couldn’t believe it.” Panicked, Mr. Mergler contacted Mr. Keri. The two had an amicable conversation, with Mr. Keri making it clear that he had no intention of building a multisport fantasy business - he just wanted to play the game.
“It’s a great idea,” said Mr. Keri, a writer for Grantland. “Dave and I weren’t as concerned with the tech as with making the league happen. We wanted to have his friends and my friends and people we know in the fantasy industry get together in [Las] Vegas and figure out how to score it.”
Preparing to launch
Mr. Mergler was relieved and energized. Mr. Keri and Mr. Dameshek are exactly the kind of hard-core fantasy sports players he hopes - and needs - to attract.
While the online fantasy sports marketplace is dominated by large companies such as Yahoo and ESPN that offer free, basic leagues to a broad, casual market and earn revenue via advertising, fantasy-industry expert Matt Schauf said that a potentially profitable niche exists for companies that cater to more devoted players.
“This isn’t going to replace people’s current fantasy games,” said Mr. Schauf, the former publisher of a fantasy sports business website. “But the people who will want to play a multisport league are serious players, a high-stakes crowd, and they’re willing to pay for the product.”
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Patrick Hruby is an award-winning journalist who holds degrees from Georgetown and Northwestern. He also contributes to ESPN.com and The Atlantic Online, and his work has been featured in The Best American Sports Writing. Follow him on Twitter (@patrick_hruby) and contact him at PatrickHruby.net.
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