Football

NFL: It's too late for some in fantasy land

LAS VEGAS — The NFL lockout has led Bruce Taylor to take some painful steps: He has scrapped publication of a fantasy football magazine that sold 161,000 copies last year, laid off an employee and took out a home equity loan.

Although players and owners are still trying to figure out how to divide $9.3 billion in revenue and save the regular season, it's already too late for some of those who make their living from the widely popular fantasy football industry.

Usually by now, thousands of the estimated 24 million people who play fantasy football each year have already begun preparing for their leagues of made-up teams, with fortunes resting on real-life individual performances of their favorite NFL stars.

But as NFL franchises and players skip off-season workouts and free agents go unsigned amid the labor unrest, companies that depend on fans poring over statistics and incremental personnel moves to form their fantasy teams have had to cope with the reality of lost revenue.

The fantasy football industry brings in about $800 million a year. While everyone involved hopes that most of that money will still be there if the NFL resolves its labor dispute, some — including magazines that help fantasy players select their teams — are already declaring 2011 a lost year.

"We'll be lucky if we make one-third of what we make in a normal year," said Taylor, the 46-year-old co-owner of Seattle-based Fantasy Index Magazine, Inc., which is not publishing its Fantasy Football Index magazine for the first time in 25 years.

"It's tough because we've had to lay somebody off — I've got another employee that I should lay off but I don't have the heart. We're a small company," Taylor told The Associated Press. "I try and be philosophical about it because when you hitch your wagon to somebody else's horse, you're going to take your lumps.

"It's a lot of money — they should fight over it — but I wish they'd fight over it faster," he said.

About 32 million people in the United States and Canada play fantasy sports each year, a number that has grown 60 percent in the last four years, according to an Ipsos Public Affairs poll commissioned by the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, the industry's largest trade group.

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