John Reinan, Star Tribune
Last update: July 27, 2006 – 11:49 PM
The cost of playing fantasy baseball could go up, as Major League Baseball exerts its right to control use of player stats.
They call it fantasy baseball. But in the eyes of major-league owners, it's too close to reality for them to ignore.
In a federal lawsuit, Major League Baseball claims that it owns Joe Mauer's hits, Justin Morneau's home runs, Johan Santana's strikeouts -- and the statistics of every other player in the major leagues. If fantasy leagues want to use player statistics in their games, baseball says, they better be prepared to pay.
Fantasy baseball is played by an estimated 6 million Americans, who draft teams of major-league players and compete based on the total of home runs, strikeouts and other statistics their players pile up. The games generate about $1.5 billion a year for the companies that provide online homes for fantasy leagues and compile the statistics.
Fantasy leagues are "using the players' names and statistics to make money for themselves, not for the players," said Jim Gallagher, a spokesman in New York for MLB Advanced Media, the major leagues' online business division.
"The sole reason they run a game is to make money. And they're making it off the players' personas, and that just ain't right."
Baseball sees fantasy leagues as a potentially rich source of revenue. Gallagher said MLB wants to centralize the games under its control on major websites such as Yahoo.com, which is among several large sites paying baseball more than $2 million a year in licensing fees.
Gallagher said baseball also wants to offer a wider variety of fantasy games geared toward the casual fan. Many people are intimidated by the commitment involved in drafting and managing a team for an entire season, he said, and MLB wants to offer online games that are easier and faster to play.
Opponents of baseball's plan warn that it could lead to higher prices for fantasy team owners, many of whom now pay around $20 a year to the companies that operate the games and provide player statistics.
"Look no further than the $10 beer or $6 hot dog at a ballgame to understand what direction fantasy sports will take under the monopolistic control of ... Major League Baseball and the Players Association," lawyers for a fantasy league operator wrote in a brief filed in U.S. District Court in St. Louis, where the case is being heard.