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Saturday 22 August 2020

Fantasy League Sports Cards


The sports card industry (specifically baseball cards) crashed in 1994. Fantasy sports existed as early as the 60's, but really caught public attention around 1995. That timing is not coincident.

In both hobbies, fans get to have  surrogate ownership of players, and the market value of those surrogates goes up or down with the performance of those players. At the casual level, being in a fantasy league is just a more publicly acceptable way to collect and play with cards. At the serious level, fantasy is a more viable, faster way to make a profit with your expertise than cards were.

In short, fantasy is just trading cards for grown ups.

But what if physical cards let you draft players?


Imagine each card had a unique QR code; scanning that code with an app would add that player to your available draft pool for fantasy competitions on that app.

If someone else scans that code, the player is added to their draft pool and removed from yours. That way, the number of a player available is limited by the number of copies of the card that are printed.

If the company printed 10,000 copies of Shohei Ohtani, then you would have 10,000 different QRs, and 10,000 Ohtanae available in a massive fantasy pool. Each card might look like this:




I will now take questions from the audience.


Q: Why would a company ever do this?

A card company could drive card sales by putting up prizes in the fantasy pool.

A fantasy company could have an exclusive gimmick that lets them reach fans that purely digital fantasy companies couldn't.

It's possibly a way to get around anti-gambling laws because fans aren't paying money to enter a fantasy league. Similarly, some leagues can offer future packs of cards as prizes instead of money. Also, 'no purchase necessary' requirements could be met by starting every fan with a limited 'starter' pool of players that allows them to participate but not effectively compete.


Q: How is this better for fans?
It's a value-add to card collectors. Cards already exist as a way to sell memories, and this gives card collectors a way to participate and make more memories.

It's a value-add to fantasy players. They still have something, possibly of collector value, after the fantasy league is over.


Q: How is this worse for fans?

Without an (possibly expensive?) modification to the printing process,  the codes might need to be on a sticker placed on the card. That's not good from an aesthetic standpoint.

You probably have to handle the cards to scan them, which is bad for serious collectors.


Q: Does this make fantasy sports really pay-to-win?

Possibly. The fantasy game can become pay-to-win, as top prospects become a scarce, necessary commodity to compete.

One way to work around this is to print more copies of popular, better players – a common practice in sports cards, but the opposite of many trading card games.


Q: So the cards become worthless after the player retires?

Their fantasy value drops to zero, but their collector value should increase because of the retirement.


Q: How am I supposed to trade players with other fans?

Before 2020 we had things like 'meeting people' and 'the post office'. Those things might return.


Q: Don't be a pretentious jerk, I live in a small town.

Sorry. Maybe send pictures and then proof of destruction of QR codes? There are pin traders in small towns.


Q: Won't people just copy cards?

They can try. Before QR codes, Sony tried something similar with a game called Eye of Judgement, but each copy of a card had the same code, so players could just print and copy the cards they wanted to play the game.

Each QR is unique for that one physical card.  Also, the number of possible QRs is much greater than the number of cards that would be feasibly printed, so generating QR codes to guess at which ones lead to player drafts isn't feasible either.


Q: If I trade a card away, why can't I just take a picture of it first to retain the player by re-scanning the picture?
Make each card scannable unlimited times, but only once per account (and lock account to mailing address, for cash prizes).


Q: If I trade a card away, why I can't I just get another account somewhere else to scan all my traded players back?

That's a real problem and I don't have a good answer yet. Anything like this needs a good customer support team, but that's yet another expense. Hopefully it's detectable.


Q: What if I take a picture of a card, then trade away the card, and then later give the picture to a friend so they can scan it after my victim scans it?

Okay, but… if the printed card distributions minimize the pay-to-win aspect, this is a lot of effort for a limited gain.


Q: Isn't this a digital activity with added physical clutter?

Sort of, but cards aren't that big, and they're mostly made of paper.

1 comment:

  1. Swap the QR code for (potentially) future cheap RFID tags built into the card and future widespread RFID readers, then you can use card physical presence (just like a credit card) to solve the trading issues.

    IoT/smart devices have this issue to an extent also - how do you register a second hand IoT device without allowing the first user access to all your data - typically the plan is "physical presence plus rare code". Just having the code without physical presence is too exploitable, as making a copy is too easy and then ownership is unclear to a central host.

    The argument towards collector value seems odd if you print a bunch of strong players - most everyone will have cards of the point producing players, so I don't see the collector value. If it's a regular card distribution (weighed towards weaker players) it's pay to win, but that's ok for playing cards. Magic the gathering, YuGiOh, Pokémon.... They are all quite pay to win but that worked out just fine for them.

    Also check your LinkedIn