Our David Dodds sat down with the founders and owners of the FFPC - Dave Gerczak and Alex Kaganovsky. We were able to get to know them better and see what makes them tick.
In four sentences or fewer, what is the FFPC?
The FFPC stands for Fantasy Football Players Championship. We are a pay-to-play fantasy games operator, offering major fantasy tournaments, dynasty, satellites, money leagues and other contests like our Playoff Challenge. Our focus is on creating the best possible player experience. This ranges from fun gameplay, to fair payouts, to live events in Las Vegas, to exceptional customer service, to protecting prizes in our attorney escrow account.
Give us a short history of why the FFPC was created. Do you feel it's holding true to its mission of being For the Players, By the Players?
We created the FFPC in 2008 because we saw a void in the high stakes fantasy football space. Existing operators had become simultaneously more corporate, less customer-focused and less trustworthy, in our opinion. We felt we knew what players wanted, and we knew we could do it better.
I feel strongly that we are holding true to our mission. As the market leader, we still pay high prize payouts, process prizes quickly and offering a level of customer service that is unparalleled in the industry. A challenge that we embrace is that we are held to a high level of expectation, and our customers have to come expect us to perform day in and day out. Fantasy players recognize that we have made a lasting commitment to their fun and enjoyment of fantasy football.
The FFPC has seen tremendous growth since inception. A lot of this growth has come from players telling players about their experiences with the FFPC. Give us a snapshot of the growth you have seen in the Main Event and satellites. How big can the Main Event get this year? In five years?
We began with just 180 Main Event players in 2008 and have grown to 1200 teams in 2013. The Footballguys Players Championship was expected to have 600 teams in 2010 but finished with 1,608 and finished with 5808 teams in 2013. We have continually increased the prize pools, paying not only a big grand prizes, but also paying deep into the Championship Round and great league prizes as well. At this size, we are just hoping for 10%-15% growth and would be very pleased with that.
Five years is a long time in the fantasy football industry. So long as we focus on putting out a great product, including protecting prizes, offering a fun game, and paying players quickly, I am sure the rest will take care of itself.
What new things are in store for people that play in the FFPC in 2014?
After years of using 3rd party software, we are debuting our own league management platform, built by Big Game Software, a fantasy-based software development firm. This has been an exciting challenge for us and is progressing nicely. Having our own software gives us the ability to offer new contests and continue making improvements to the platform in order to create a superior user experience for our players.
The Footballguys Players Championship debuted with 1,608 teams in 2010 and had 5,808 teams last year to completely dominate the $350 contest space last year. What do you and Footballguys do for an encore here? How big can this event get?
It was another banner year for the contest. This year, we have made a few changes. We decided to cap the contest at 7,500 teams. A sellout would result in a prize pool in excess of $2 million, which is pretty crazy for a $350 entry fee. We also have made a conscious decision to fill out our prize pool and pay out as deep as we possibly can. Prizes in the Championship Round will be paid all the way down to 650th place. Paying that deep may not draw as many players as our $300,000 Grand Prize, but it is the right thing to do and makes the contest more fun when it really counts. Only one person wins the Grand Prize, so it can be deceiving when you see that big carrot in a contest but almost nothing in the way of prizes behind it.
There is no limit to how much this contest can grow. We would love to be able to make someone a millionaire from this contest someday.
Both of you have been extremely successful in high-stakes contests. What have you learned in playing these other events that you have incorporated into the FFPC?
Alex and I like to consider what we would prefer as players when making decisions. It gives us a perspective that other game operators do not have. For example, having a well balanced prize pool was always important. From the beginning, we focused on paying out substantial league prizes as well as deep prizes in the Championship Round. Not just a huge Main Event prize. Another is that we always take into consideration the potential effects on the overall player experience and therefore are very careful when making any changes to our game formats.
Someone wants to make the leap from their home league to the world of high stakes. Any words of wisdom to help ease his/her transition?
First of all, do not be afraid to make the leap. All of our players had initially come from the home leagues at some point, and many have done very well in the high stakes arena. Make sure you know the rules and scoring system. I tell new players to be fairly aggressive in waivers early on. Sleepers will go early and high stakes players are not afraid to throw ADP out the window. Consider partnering up with a buddy to pick up a Footballguys Players Championship team at $350 or make the big jump to the FFPC Main Event. And most of all, enjoy the experience and competition.
The FFPC has some of the most enjoyable high stakes rules out there. Things like 1.5 points per tight end reception, incorporation of dual flex, victory points, etc. Although these rules are not considered mainstream, they are almost universally loved in the high-stakes area. Explain to someone new what these rules are and why they help promote skill in the FFPC.
When you combine the 1.5 points per catch for tight ends and the dual flex, it really changes the dynamic of both your draft and also how you manage your team from week to week. Tight end is no longer an afterthought, but an important position for your team. You can change your entire draft strategy mid-draft if you choose when playing under FFPC rules. Basic PPR-scoring with a single flex is still popular, but it can be very predictable and true to Average Draft Position.
Make a case for why someone should come to Vegas and participate in some high stakes events. What's this about a FREE opening day kickoff party?
While drafting online is also fun and convenient, nothing beats the live Las Vegas FFPC Main Event experience. Players have the opportunity to meet and compete with other fantasy football enthusiasts. There are other live league options like auctions, draft experts, and high stakes leagues. You can watch the Thursday night's opening game on a huge screen with hundreds of your peers at a free party that we throw every year. That is not even to mention college football and the opening weekend of the NFL season. And don’t forget the gambling, shopping, shows and 5-star restaurants in Las Vegas. You can come with the wife, friends or by yourself and have a blast. It often turns into an annual pilgrimage. You can draft your fantasy team on Friday or Saturday and watch it compete less than 48 hours later in a Las Vegas sports book. How cool is that? And if you still don’t believe us, take a look for yourself at the 2013 FFPC Live Events video.
The FFPC is known for the high-stakes options, but what do you offer for the player willing to spend a lot less?
We just introduced $35 entry fee Footballguys Players Championship (FPC) satellite leagues this year. If you win one of those leagues, you get an entry into the 2015 FPC, so you could potentially turn $35 into $300,000. The FFPC also has popular cash leagues at $77 and $150 entry fees.
Give us your sales pitch on why players should play in the FFPC and Footballguys Players Championship this year? What makes these events the best the industry has to offer?
When you look at the growth and popularity of FFPC contests and events, it really comes down to putting out a product that players love and return to play year after year. So our sales pitch to play any of our events is simple: "Just ask our players." I think our players are the best spokesperson you could ask for. We encourage anyone interested in joining our events to come to the FFPC message board, simply browse around or ask some questions. Our players will gladly respond to all inquiries and we are proud to have them speak on our behalf as can be seen on the testimonial page.
Give us a player that you believe will be significantly undervalued in high-stakes drafts this year (production greatly exceeds draft position). Please backup that selection with why you like his chances to succeed in 2014.
Dave: RB Bishop Sankey, Tennessee. I think he is a very talented three-down back, plays for a team with a strong offensive line, the scheme favors the running game and he will be featured. Current ADP of 51 and RB19, I think he will be a top 10 back this year.
Alex: WR Justin Hunter, Tennessee. I will also stick with the Titans for my undervalued player. At the current ADP of WR55, you are getting a ton of upside from this youngster. He’s got height, speed and will continue to be a big red zone target as he was last year. If he gets a bit more involved in the passing game between the 20s, which I expect, you may be looking at a solid #3 and potential #2 WR.
Additionally, give me a player that will not be on your roster at any draft position. Explain why you think this "bust" could drastically under-perform their ADP.
Dave: QB Peyton Manning, Denver. I love Manning, but I just can’t take him at 10 overall. You are paying for last year’s production. His age, injury concerns and lack of mobility concern me should he get knocked around this year.
Alex: RB Steven Jackson, Atlanta. I don’t really care what his ADP is, I don’t want a 31 year old RB with all that wear and tear on my roster. Every time you put him into your starting lineup, you are risking 0-point production as he probably has the highest chances of leaving the game with an injury of anyone in the NFL. No thank you.
Parting shot about the FFPC.
We really want to thank our players for their loyalty and patronage. Alex and I have been blessed to work with great people on our team like our customer service superstar Chris Lambert. We love working with the great people at Footballguys. 2014 is the 7th year for the FFPC, and we couldn’t be more excited for it.
How can players find out more information about the FFPC?
Give us a sneak peak at a typical day behind the scenes in late August.
Dave: Wake up at 5:30, answer emails, check on any slow drafts currently going on, check for leagues that filled or any issues. Get in a quick AM workout, hop on a call with Alex and do any work needed after that call, verify that facilitators are good to go for the evening. Possibly send an email to FFPC players, work on the Main Event. Launch any new Footballguys drafts that may have filled throughout the day. In August, I check email every 15-20 minutes and am never far from a CPU. Most live Footballguys Players Championship drafts take place in the late afternoon and evening, so I am checking in on those as well. Pretty much we are working on all things FFPC from early morning until Midnight in August, especially after August 10th until we fly to Las Vegas for the live events.
Alex: Wake up at 11am, breakfast in bed, text Dave to see how the morning’s going……alright, I kid, I kid!! Augusts are crazy, as you might imagine. Processing anywhere between 150-200 registrations per day for the various events. Helping players to login, answering questions, etc. Communicating with the Caesars Palace team to make sure the live events in Vegas are ready. Never off the iPhone, iPad or the laptop.
Who the hell is Don Erickson?
He's a world-renowned journalist that you'll probably remember from critically acclaimed 1970s investigative documentaries. You may also recognize him from a little film that pops up on MyFFPC.com every time you load up the page. He's won 157 awards in total including Oscars, Emmys. Edward R. Murrows and Ericksons. (Awards named after him.) And while he's come up empty on the awards circuit since 1979, he's on a bit of a comeback.
For the last two years, he's helped produce two documentary shorts about the FFPC Live Events at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. Both were slighted at the Academy Awards for what Erickson said were strictly political reasons. His history as a Hollywood outsider coupled with his long-standing feud with Dustin Hoffman has always prevented him from getting his just do for the last 30+ years.
He's a scotch-guzzling, devilishly-handsome, chain-smoking womanizer who makes you feel like you're doing something wrong by not being all of those things. He's never played fantasy football after finding out he could not draft himself, but he continues to be fascinated by high-stakes players.
You two are the faces of the FFPC, but it likely takes many others behind the scenes to get stuff done. Who are the key role players within the FFPC team?
Chris Lambert is our full-time customer service star. Eric Balkman does a great job and wears many different hats, from live commish, to host of the HSFF Hour, to helping with the live event. Brice Masters, Jeremy Linsmeyer, and Kevin English commish lots of FPC drafts. And Lenny Pappano brings his experience in making sure the Las Vegas live events run smoothly.
What's the biggest mistake you see fantasy drafters make? Stated another way, what's the one thing the "sharks" consistently get right year over year in these leagues?
Team construction is a big deal. Not just knowing who to draft but when to pull the trigger on a specific position while building your roster. Not get caught in a position run. Knowing when to go and get your man and when not to overreach. Each draft has it’s own “life” and the sharks can sense the differences in each draft and adjust on the fly. This is mostly gained from experience of doing a lot of drafts or mocks. After a while, drafting can become instinctual.
Did you guys see yourself getting to where you are now back when you created the FFPC? Explain the key decisions that led FFPC to be the company it is today.
Not at all. We had no idea we would have this kind of growth and continued support from the fantasy community. I think working hard, keeping promises to our customers and aligning with great people have been our biggest keys to success. From hiring Chris Lambert to partnering with Joe and David at Footballguys, that has been huge.
What advice would you give for someone who wants to become an entrepreneur?
Make sure you have the right personality for it, as it isn’t for everyone. Have a great idea and commit fully to it. You will need more money than you think. Sales will be worse than you think. Stay frugal. Be ethical. Get a good CPA and attorney. Entrepreneurship can be fun, frustrating, exhilarating, profitable, and a total grind...often in the same day.
Give us your vision on where Fantasy Football - as an industry - is today and where it is going in the next few years?
As an industry, fantasy football is still clearly growing at a rapid pace. The explosion of the daily fantasy games over the last few years has brought a lot venture capital money into this industry and therefore, a lot of exposure to new customers. And while the long term sustainability of the daily game industry remains uncertain, one thing that is for certain: a lot more people are playing fantasy football for for money now more than ever, both daily and traditional, season-long. And that’s great for everyone because fantasy football is that much more exciting when you have such big prizes on the line. So from the perspective of the FFPC and we see a future where more and more people are getting interested in this hobby which is fantastic news for everyone.
Fantasy success, how much is skill and how much is luck?
Dave: I refuse to answer this for the 500th time, lol.
Alex: I’ve always had the belief that luck is a constant in fantasy football and that over time, it evens out for everyone (although it may not always feel that way when you lose the Championship game because of an injury or a fluke play). So to me, it doesn’t matter what percentage or what ratio you give to skill vs luck. Skill is the only thing you have ability to improve. How good of a drafter you are. How good of a weekly decision maker you are. This is 100% within our control. Luck is something that is completely out of our control and although it affects all of us differently, it still remains a constant for all.
What is something no one knows about you?
Dave: I love going to Disney with my family, and we go more often than makes logical sense.
Alex: Many years ago I worked as a stagehand at the Metropolitan Opera and actually still enjoy listening to opera music at times.