A couple of years ago, a business-development guy at Bloomberg named Bo Moon was getting crushed in his fantasy-basketball league. So while commuting from New Jersey into Bloomberg's Manhattan offices, Moon and a car-pool colleague, Jay B. Lee, started wondering what would happen if the company applied its core expertise, the supply of real-time financial analytics to Wall Street traders, to sports statistics. (And while spending hours stuck in New York Cityarea rush-hour traffic, they had plenty of time to ponder.) After all, in many ways fantasy teams are similar to stock portfolios, with players as the assets. If Bloomberg could analyze a stock via every imaginable statistic and performance graphic, why couldn't the company do the same for athletes? With fantasy sports now a $4.5 billion industry, wouldn't there be demand for a Bloomberg product geared toward that market?
Bloomberg is about to find out. Moon and Lee kicked their idea up the company's corporate ladder, and last August Bloomberg Sports was formed. The goal is simple: to replicate the company's smashing success in the financial world, where the $1,500-a-month Bloomberg terminals are in many ways the lifeblood of the industry, into the sports world. Bloomberg is starting with baseball. The company has just launched its fantasy product, which costs $31.95 for the year and is available on MLB.com. It's the first consumer product in the company's history Bloomberg sells its expensive financial analytics to companies.
Though Bloomberg is betting that fantasy nerds gearing up for their drafts, and wasting time at work, over the next few weeks will drive business, the company is also offering an advanced product to the Major League Baseball clubs. For example, the pro tool provides detailed pitching data to the teams. If Derek Jeter wanted to know the speed and location of every ball that Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett threw to him on a 2-2 count with a man on first base, Bloomberg says it could provide this information in about 10 seconds. Bloomberg is also offering around-the-clock customer support to the teams. While a fantasy player can expect a response from Bloomberg within 24 hours of asking for help, he won't get a 3 a.m. callback while he's torturing himself over whom to start at second base for the next day's game. "We'd have to charge more than $31.95 for that," says Bill Squadron, president of Bloomberg Sports products.
The teams are being offered a six-month trial, and Squadron says almost every team is toying with it right now. Though Bloomberg won't say how much it will charge the clubs for the product, a source close to the company says Bloomberg plans to price it at a rate similar to the fees for its financial terminals, which cost between $1,500 and $1,800 a month. Even for the lowest-revenue clubs, such an investment is probably worth it. And as more teams continue to hire quant experts to help evaluate players, the market should be strong.
Is the Bloomberg tool worth the $31.95 for consumers? So far, the product is drawing impressive reviews. "Bloomberg is very good at visualizing data," says Maury Brown, president of The Biz of Baseball, a site dedicated to covering the baseball industry, and a fantasy player. "It definitely has that wow factor." The site is fairly intuitive, even for a rookie, and the news ticker that scrolls across the top is candy for baseball junkies. Hard-core stat heads, however, might be disappointed that the product does not allow you to export data into, say, an Excel spreadsheet for further saucing. You can't even cut and paste. "We are currently looking into how best to implement an export feature," says Bloomberg spokeswoman Silvia Alvarez.
Squadron says that early sales for the consumer product, which hit the market two weeks ago, have been strong. The rest of March, however, will be crucial as this is the peak season for fantasy-baseball drafts. If baseball is a home run, expect similar products for football, which has an even more rabid following among fantasy players, and soccer, which would give Bloomberg Sports a more global reach and make workplaces even less productive.