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Online Fantasy Sports Game Interview - Telegraph Premier League Online- TPLO - Reviewed by FISO here

Questions on TPLO and the team behind TPLO, put by FISO to TPLO's Product Manager, Jim Cameron on 22 December 2000:


1. Which year was TPLO first launched and what do you think your game offers over other online fantasy football competitions?

This is the fourth season online but the newspaper launched the original game in 1993. I think it's our squad system and the high level of interactivity in our online game that puts us ahead of the rest of the pack.


2. Do you have any future developments or advances that you are working on or intend to introduce next year? In particular, will there be a restriction on the number of teams each person can enter?

There will be limits on number of teams per manager next season but these have yet to be finalised. Otherwise, we will have a look at all the features within the game and canvass opinion on them from all of our managers. We don't want to make wholesale changes as we think we're near the perfect format now but we may reconsider the Star Player element as that seems to have divided the opinion of our managers. We are also investigating the possibility of offering chat facilities within and between mini-leagues.


3. How many teams take part and how many do you hope to sign up next year? Do you know how many individuals take part?

We have nearly 59,000 teams at the moment. There are about 50,000 or so individuals involved. Next year, who knows? We doubled the number of players this season but I think we'll be lucky to do so again with the number of big prize alternatives around. We are confident that ours is the best FF game on the web though so if word travels we could do very well. It also depends on how much cash we get to publicise the site. A sponsor will help in that area.


4. From a technical viewpoint, what was the most difficult function to introduce and how do you think the software copes overall?

I think the software copes well though we would always like to see it working that little bit faster. But we have to be realistic about the complexity of the individual changes made by our managers when they are on the site and the sheer number of them. Traffic has been the major "problem" so we have been victims of our own success to an extent. But this has been eased by the introduction of the timed team changes function which everyone seems pretty pleased with.


5. There are a couple of online Fantasy Football competitions that offer prize money of 1 million and over. Any chance your prize money might be increased next year?

Yes, there is. We have a number of big name sponsors interested in sponsoring the game next season so we're confident that we can offer bigger prizes. Fortunately though, people seem to love the game despite its current rather modest winnings!


6. Can you give our readers some detail on the specification of the hardware and software you use and on your website statistics (including bandwidth use) and also on the number of people in the team that look after the game and the roles they have?

I can't give away too much but we get around 10,000 page impressions a day on the site on average and this more than doubles on busy days. We have three massive webservers on board and a substantial 'pipe'. Apart from the technical side of the game and the odd marketing venture or competition, it's just me who handles the game. We have a team of scorers who provide us and the newspaper with the points per player each week and they are part of the same company that runs the technical side of the game. I run the day-to-day email, editorial, chart area and general interface aspects of the game. And jolly good fun it is too!


7. Do you have many emails to deal with each day from people with questions or problems with the game or website and what was the strangest email?

The most common query we get is people who have forgotten their passwords! But we also get a dozen or so per week querying the rules of the game and perhaps a few a week demanding assists that have not been awarded. I'm happy to say our chat area provides the bulk of my inbox. I'd say I probably get around 40 emails a day on average now but it was much much more than that at the start of the season! Not too many weird emails but we had a nice message from a lad who's an orthodox Jew thanking us for our timed team change facility as he isn't allowed to go onto the site on Saturdays - the Jewish Sabbath.


8. Are you able to tell or estimate what proportion of players are based in the UK and from each continent?

Yes, about one quarter of the teams are from outside the UK. Europe and then North America account for most of the rest but we get more than enough players from each continent to make the continental and country leader boards hotly contested!


9. Are you or your team involved in any other fantasy sports games?

The newspaper offers various fantasy games such as golf and cricket but, as yet, TPLO is our only online fantasy game. But there are plans to introduce others now the sports channel has relaunched (sport.telegraph.co.uk).


10. Have you considered setting up a 'Champions League' system whereby, say, the top 50 teams from each season are allowed to compete in a separate mini-league each following season, with the winner receiving a prize for being the Champion of the Champions?

We haven't seriously considered this idea. We'd like to make the game special for everyone really - if that doesn't sound too corny!


11. Do you play any fantasy sports games yourself and, if so, which ones?

Not really. I have a team in TPLO (currently 131st!) but don't really have the time or inclination to play any others - that would be a bit of a busman's holiday! for me really!


12. What are your typical duties in an average week?

I write up the summary on every Premiership game in 'Tele Talk' and the run-down on how the points are calculated each week - 'TPLO News'. I also keep the 'Premiership News' page as up-to-date as possible with injury, transfer and team news and I also moderate the 'Have Your Say!' chat area. I answer all the emails we get and got involved in the design and 'customer journey' aspects of the site rebuild over the summer. I also write the ' Fantasist' column for the Weekly Telegraph and Global Network website and get involved in sorting out the Manager of the Month and season prizes as well as any one-off competitions we run. I also have a lot of input into marketing activity connected with the game. For instance, I'm in negotiation with various people to see if we can get TPLO on WAP for next season.


13. How did you first get involved in Fantasy Football and what technical experience does someone need run an online Fantasy Sports game?

My background is in marketing and writing. I was running a website for a part of the AXA Insurance group when this job came up. I must admit I jumped at the chance! My technical experience comes from running websites but I am far from a "techie". I know what is and isn't possible and know roughly what works and what doesn't but I leave the actual building to others who know what they're talking about! Leave me to my words - I'm more comfortable there...


14. Who do you think the best real-life football manager is and which fantasy football manager has the best record since TPLO first went live?

It pains me to say it but you can't overlook Sir Alex Ferguson's incredible achievements. Just remember what Man Utd were like before he turned up! I also admire Arsene Wenger, George Burley and Peter Taylor. In terms of TPLO managers, Charlie Kilpatrick did very well last season with 1st and 2nd place at the end. Gary Shek is doing very well this season but my involvement only goes back to November 1999 so I'm not aware of any characters before that time.


15. What is your opinion on the England manager situation and who do you think should be England captain?

I have no qualms about having a non-English national coach. I would have liked Terry Venables to have had another go but there were clearly some other matters that the FA couldn't put up with. It is time for a rebirth in the national side in terms both of playing personnel and the set-up as a whole. Sven-Goran Eriksson should be able to manage with an impartial eye and a wealth of club level experience with top players. The other bonus is that we have a generation of fearless, skilful youngsters such as Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard, Alan Smith and Lee Bowyer and others creeping through like Wes Brown, Titus Bramble and Joe Cole. The future's bright. I think Sol Campbell or Gareth Southgate would be good choices for captain when Tony Adams finally slips out of the picture.


16. Can anyone stop Manchester United this year?

Yes, I think it can be done but it will need a consistency that challengers like Arsenal and Liverpool have not shown so far this season. We know United can be beaten and their striker crisis over Christmas could help the challengers to catch up but no-one can afford to give away silly points if they are to catch the Champions.


17. If you could only pick one goalkeeper, one defender, one midfielder and one striker for a Premiership fantasy team (with no restrictions) who would they be?

Fabien Barthez, Silvinho, David Beckham, Thierry Henry - all "must haves" in my book.


18. Where were you when England trounced Holland in Euro 1996 and when England lost to Argentina on penalties in the World Cup 1998?

I was in a pub in Ipswich when England gubbed the Dutch. I couldn't believe what I was seeing - the best England performance I have ever seen. For the 1998 World Cup I was in a bar near Canary Wharf. A tremendous game but I can't remember being more disappointed - well not since Euro 96 anyway!


19. Which football player do you think will be the top scorer in TPLO this year?

Possibly Emile Heskey or Mark Viduka. David Beckham will be up there if his form picks up again and if he gets a few more goals.


20. What do you do in your spare time to relax?

I'm the guitarist in a highly-unsuccessful rock band and do a bit of creative writing on the side. Otherwise, visiting the hostelries of London, chilling out with my girlfriend and, of course, watching footie! I'm an Ipswich Town fan and while I'm delighted with their success so far this season it's getting increasingly difficult to get a ticket!


21. Do you think Fantasy Football should be an Olympic Sport?

Interesting question. I think it takes a little too long for your average Olympics competition. Maybe each country could play it for the four years between each Olympics and tot up the scores!


22. If there was one rule in football that you could change what would it be?

I would give goalkeepers less protection. You only have to touch a keeper when he's going up for a cross to concede a foul. I don't mean go back to the days where forwards could steam-roller them into the back of the net, but I don't see why keepers should get different treatment from anyone else on the pitch.


23. Do you ever have any difficulty in determining assists or do you use an outside source for the data?

We use an outside source who are very trustworthy and fair. There are very few arguments from managers about assists considering how open to interpretation they can sometimes be.


24. Is there any advice you can give our readers who are either playing TPLO or looking to set up and run their own online Fantasy Soccer game?

Keep your eye on what's going on in the Premiership in terms of signings and injuries - don't keep picking someone who signed for Kilmarnock three months ago or retired from the game! Also, don't use all of your transfers too early - it's a long season. As far as setting up your own online game goes, make sure you have someone who knows what they are doing technically speaking. Do not underestimate how complex the software will become! It's a minefield!!



Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to FISO and everyone playing the game. Here's to loads of points over the festive period!


Jim Cameron
Product Manager, Telegraph Premier League Online
Electronic Telegraph

22 December 2000