September 08, 2010
"Pigs get fat. Hogs get slaughtered."
"You can shear a sheep a hundred times, but only skin it once."
These old farm-based aphorisms remind us of the perils of being excessively greedy. It appears that the soulless corporate overlords at CBSSports.com (I refuse to link on general and specific principles) failed to learn that lesson in their Advanced Pillaging course during their MBA studies. For the past 15ish years, I have been the manager for a fantasy football league. It's a pretty casual crew, more in it for fun than any serious money (and the league certainly would never even so much as dream of violating Iowa gaming laws limiting casual gambling losses to $50. Nosirree, Bob!).
Thankfully, around the time we organized the league, several internet sites were starting to offer services that would track players, handle trades and roster moves, and most importantly, keep score. Early on, I signed up with one of the sites (Rotoworld, maybe?) that seemed to handle the process well, and did so for a modest fee. Several years later, I moved the site over to CBSSports.com, because they offered live, real-time scoring, rather than delaying scoring until after the week's games concluded. Along the way, the fee for keeping our league online gradually increased (from something like $50 per year to a little over $100 per year), but I personally paid the fee because: a) it saved me immense hassles in managing the league (everything is virtually automatic after the draft), b) paying the fee allowed the league to micromanage scoring and roster options (rather than being stuck with rather unsatisfactory "standard" options offered by several leading free sites), and c) the guys liked being able to track the live scoring feature while watching the week's games. Many leagues pass the online fees along to the other players, but since this league was for fun, I always ate the fee and passed through the entire entry fees as prizes.
In any event, over the past three months I received a series of emails from CBSSports.com. Early on, the emails were pretty standard "come back now and save!" types of solicitations:
This is your last chance to save $20* on your league.Offer ends this Thursday, August 12th at 11:59pm ET
Dear Fantasy Team Owner,
Purchase your league, Frozen Tundra, now to save $20 off the full price of your league. You'll pay $159.99- that's less than $14 per person in a 12-team league. Your league will enjoy the ultimate fantasy experience this season with:
—CBSSports.com email of 8/9/2010.
- Rapid live scoring via GameTracker.™
- Full control to customize league transactions like trade and waiver options.
- Multiple draft options, including auction drafts.
- New tools to help you set your lineup each week- Learn more now.
- 24 hour Help Center support.
- Also check out the newly redesigned CBSSports.com now available in Beta via the link at the top of the current site.
Of course, as a premier procrastinator, I held off, in part because the price seemed a big jump from last season (my hazy memory is that the fee last year was around $120), and in part because I had decided to check out a few competing sites which were offering similar services for free or at a fraction of the CBSSports.com price. But, if you had pressed me at that point in time, I probably would have told you I expected to sign up with CBSSports.com again this year, mostly from inertia—all of our league's quirky scoring and scheduling preferences were already set-up, the guys were already signed up on the site, and frankly, moving seemed like quite the hassle.
Well, I didn't meet their randomly assigned deadline, and I figured, at worst, I would be out the extra $20 by not taking advantage of the special early-bird renewal rate. Oh well, it was my own fault. And, frankly, I waste more money on a bottle of wine or a bad preflop call all the time, so I wasn't losing sleep over the extra Jackson.
Well, one week to the day later, CBSSports.com emailed me again, but this time, the tone had changed from friendly salesperson to impatient bill collector:
From: Fantasy Football Billing
Payment for your Fantasy Football league from CBSSports.com is now due. Your free trial period is about to expire. Please review your statement and remit payment to ensure uninterrupted access to your league. This invoice covers the total cost of your league. As of the time this message was sent, we have not received payment foryour league. If you or another member of your league has already paid, please disregard this notice. Thank you for your business.
Qty Item Price
1 Fantasy Football League $159.99
Total Due: $159.99
—CBSSports.com email of 8/16/2010.
Now, this "invoice" is utterly ridiculous for a number of reasons. First, the "free trial period" is a joke. I know how the site works, having used it for years. But notice how the free trial period only operates between football seasons, when it is utterly without value. How can one "test" any features (new or old) when there are no players to draft, and no games to score?
Second, I absolutely despise companies who send me product solicitations disguised as "invoices". I haven't purchased your product yet, so how can you possibly be billing me for it? What a slimy tactic, more what I would associate with a telemarketing scam than with a supposedly reputable media site. Note the particularly odious implication that my payment was late. A pox—trichinosis, maybe?—on your marketing staff.
Finally, just to twist the knife in further, note the price of the league. That's right, it's the same $159.99 price CBSSports.com had touted earlier as being the rock-bottom bargain discount rate, subject to an expiration date. So, all those folks who signed up early, thinking they were getting a great $20 discount, guess what? You got suckered! Let's just say after a couple of these fake invoices, I suddenly developed a keen interest in investigating alternative fantasy football sites.
So, guess what I found in my email box last week? Yup, another sales pitch from CBSSports.com:
Note that this email reverted back to the original sales pitch, but suddenly touted a special two-day "extension" of the special discount. Sorry guys, by this point I was seriously annoyed, and motivated to do a little more comparison shopping. Although there are several good free sites, I ended up settling on ESPN.com's fantasy football service because: a) it allowed the same rule and roster flexibility, b) it offers real-time game scoring updates, and c) it was free. Yes, the sports media mothership, which is fully capable of sucking spare change from your wallet, provides essentially the same services as CBSSports.com, at absolutely no charge! Now, I know that some of these services either were unavailable or were fee-based in the past, but since I haven't really investigated alternatives in the past 3-4 years, I'm starting to wonder how long I was CBSSports.com's huckleberry.Don't miss your absolute last chance to save $20* on your league. Offer extended until Thursday, August 26th at 11:59pm ET
Football season is almost here. Renew your league, Frozen Tundra, now to save $20 off the full price of your league. You'll pay $159.99 - that's less than $14 per person in a 12-team league. Continue to enjoy the ultimate fantasy experience with:
—CBSSports.com email of 8/24/2010.
- Detailed league history spanning back to your league's inaugural season.
- The ability to have anywhere between 2 and 30 teams, and up to 4 Owners per team.
- New tools to help you set your lineup each week- Learn more now.
- The Fantasy Sports Trade Association award-winning league manager 8 out of 9 years.
- Phone Gurus available for New League Setup Assistance 7 days a week between 8am and 12am ET at 1-877-322-GURU (4878).
- Get your football information faster with the newly redesigned CBSSports.com, featuring cleaner layouts and easy to use navigation.
In any event, I was setting up our league on ESPN.com today, and wanted to verify the scoring rules we had used on CBSSports.com. Imagine my surprise when I discovered our league page still existed, but I was locked out from even looking at our own league constitution and scoring rules! Instead, I got this "welcome page":
Your Grace Period ended.Wow, holding my league information hostage. CBSSports.com wants $179.99 to simply let me look at the rules I wrote for my own fantasy football league? Like I care that much! Plus, I happen to have plenty of documents and emails with the league rules and records, it was just more inconvenient to find them than to go the league home page. Sorry CBSSports.com, but your last little dirty trick failed, and you have lost me as a customer. Come spring, I'll be moving my March Madness bracket off your site and relocating it ... well, just about anywhere that doesn't try to strong arm me.
Please submit payment to re-activate your league.
Don't worry! Your league remains completely intact. However, your grace period has ended so we must restrict access to your league until payment is received. Resume full use of your league by completing your purchase now:
Fantasy Football Commissioner is the most powerful and reliable league manager available. Doesn't your league deserve the best? Fantasy Football Commissioner has been voted the "Best Fantasy Football League Manager" by the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.
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"No question now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."
—"Animal Farm" by George Orwell
An animal with far more utility and
character than CBSSports.com.
(Image source at guardian.co.uk).