Aug. 31, 2014

Fantasy Sports Leagues Lobby for Real

If you're savvy to Congress and obsessed with fantasy sports leagues, then Travis McCoy probably has your dream job.

The former GOP Hill aide, who has his own lobbying and law practice in Leesburg, Va., just became the first registered lobbyist for the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

The group represents businesses such as Yahoo, ESPN, CBSSports.com, Big Game Software and Rotowire.com that make money from the popular leagues in which people assemble all-star teams from their pick of real-life players, then compete the statistical performance of their players against other mock franchises.

When it comes to the association's game plan on Capitol Hill, McCoy plans to play defense, particularly in protecting online wagering.

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 limits online gambling but "provides a carve-out for fantasy sports," the lobbyist said. "We are going to focus on making sure we keep that."

State laws, however, prove far murkier territory.

Arizona, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana and Washington are among the states that make it difficult, if not downright illegal, for their residents to play fantasy sports, McCoy said.

"The FSTA saw an opportunity and wanted to open up these states and markets for their members to bring in more jobs, create more tax revenue," he said. "We're going to go into those states to make sure people can have fun and enjoy their games."

Although many of the fantasy sports leagues are free to join online, software companies, Internet providers, advertisers and actual sports leagues profit from the enterprise. Fantasy players watch more football, baseball, hockey or basketball games than for just their home teams because they have a stake in the stats of individual players they've drafted from across the league.

"It amplifies your enjoyment of the sport," McCoy said. "You can watch other players that aren't on your favorite team, and you have a vested interest in them. You can win prizes. Some leagues that are pay-to-play, you can win money."

Even though McCoy is the FSTA's first federal lobbyist, the organization has been around for years. According to the group's website, back in 1998 during a Fantasy Insights Convention, participants organized a meeting to discuss pending legislation and industry topics. There "representatives from CDM, Fantasy Insights, EA Sports, The Sporting News, and USFANS decided that it was time to create an official organization to help promote fantasy sports and the Fantasy Sports Trade Association was born," the website states. It adds that its first convention was in 1999.

Some leagues pay out prizes for winners, but other sites host free leagues that friends might set up, allowing them to make wagers among themselves.

People take their fantasy games seriously. And so companies such as Rotowire have found a niche in providing up-to-date information and analysis about players.

McCoy, a self-described huge fan of fantasy sports for more than a decade, worked for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and for the House Education and Workforce Committee during the chairmanship of now-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

"I really just enjoy the games," McCoy said. "It's a really fun hobby."

And now it pays the bills.

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