2007-02-22 / Sports

Fantasy baseball's new marketplace

Longtime T.O. resident adds updated twist to an old game
By Stephen Dorman sdorman@theacorn.com

STEPHEN DORMAN/Acorn Newspapers STAT MAN- David Wu, co-founder of RotoHog.com, checks his company's  new  website  Tuesday  afternoon  at  Starbucks  in Thousand Oaks. Wu's online game is part fantasy baseball, part stock market. It's free of charge, and the No. 1 finisher wins $100,000. STEPHEN DORMAN/Acorn Newspapers STAT MAN- David Wu, co-founder of RotoHog.com, checks his company's new website Tuesday afternoon at Starbucks in Thousand Oaks. Wu's online game is part fantasy baseball, part stock market. It's free of charge, and the No. 1 finisher wins $100,000. David Wu wants to give you $100,000.

The 36yearold is the cofounder and CEO of RotoHog.com, a fantasy sports website. Wu, who lived in Thousand Oaks for 27 years before moving to Simi Valley last year, and his business partner, Kent Smetters, spent almost a year fine-tuning the online project. Earlier this month RotoHog was finally launched.

"We just wanted to create a lively game," Wu said. "It's something that made sense to us. We really wanted to create the standard for the industry, like 'American Idol' or the 'World Series of Poker.'"

What Wu and Smetters helped develop was an innovative way to play fantasy sports, one where players control the market by buying and selling athletes like stockbrokers on a trading floor.

"It's like an IPO," said Wu, who's scheduled to receive his MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in two months. "We set the initial price. After that the market takes over."

According to Smetters, players don't need to know much about how the stock market operates to be successful in this game.

"The stock market is part of it, but we tried to make that very, very simple," said Smetters, a professor at Wharton who once served as deputy assistant secretary of the United States Treasury.

"We don't have bid spreads or complicated stuff like that. If you can balance a checkbook, you can play the game. You have a budget to start with, prices for different players, and you just make decisions."

In standard Rotisserie or head-to-head fantasy baseball leagues, players build teams through the draft, by trading with other players, or via free agency.

There are rules in place, such as specific roster positions to fill and salary cap limits to adhere to. Scoring systems often differ between leagues, but are generally predicated on athletes' success in various statistical categories.

At RotoHog things are a little different. There are still structured rosters, a draft, and a salary cap. One essential disparity is that trading isn't allowed.

"There is some unfairness built into the traditional model," Wu said. "Trades can sometimes open up collusion and unfair tactics."

RotoHog players build a team by utilizing a global fantasy marketplace where athletes' monetary values are in a constant state of flux due to supply and demand.

The most productive baseball players, like St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols for example, may cost a prospective buyer upwards of $50 on any given day- a good portion of a team's $275 salary cap. A major league benchwarmer, though, can often be snatched up for 25 cents, the RotoHog minimum salary. "Prices are reflected by players' performance and by demand," Wu said. "The stock element is standardized by the value of each player." For every 12 registered teams in the RotoHog system, an athlete's name is released just once. So, if there are 120 teams total, then there would be 12 Pujolses available for purchase. Realistically, one league could have several teams with players who own Pujols, while other leagues could be Pujolsless.

It's not an entirely new concept.

Protrade.com has run marketplace-driven fantasy leagues since 2005. The dissimilarity between Protrade and RotoHog, Wu said, is that the two companies have vastly different scoring systems. RotoHog is also more of a globally based system, he added.

In RotoHog's inaugural year, the company is offering a $100,000 grand prize for the team that can score the most points throughout the baseball season. There are many other cash rewards being dolled out as well, including $25,000 for second place, $10,000 for third and $10,000 to the person who refers the grand prize winner.

When a user signs up for one or more public or private RotoHog leagues- it's free, but limited to one team per player- their team is automatically entered into the global competition and is eligible for weekly and season-long prizes. RotoHog is capping the total baseball teams this year at 100,000. The number of teams during football season will be unlimited.

Wu said they're offering free registration and large sums of money as a way to increase traffic on the website.

"Demographics attract advertisers," he said.

RotoHog also provides some free fantasy news content. For a one-time fee of $9.95, users can upgrade to a premium package.

Even in winter, Wu eagerly anticipates that crisp autumn day in late September when his new company can finally crown a global fantasy baseball champion.

"It's going to be awesome," he said. "Imagine knowing you're the best fantasy baseball player in the whole world."

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