Jeff Thomas Fantasy Sports Pioneer

By Emil Kadlec
Emil Kadlec

Jeff Thomas (“JT”) was one of the early pioneers in fantasy sports gaming. His companies created and managed a variety of salary cap, check box, March Madness, and single player fantasy sports games for millions of customers.

He started Buff Sports (later becoming Sports Buff Fantasy Sports) in 1992, before the Internet, creating a “high tech” IVR (interactive voice response) system that allowed players to call in to manage their teams – get scores, ranks, tips, and make unlimited trades on a weekly basis. Sports Buff Fantasy Football was the largest multi-player fantasy football game in the country for several years in the 1990s.

Sports Buff created a unique version in the salary cap genre which included regular season and post-season competition, sending finalists to Las Vegas to draft their playoff teams and compete for the top prizes. Each finalist was paired with a NFL, MLB, NBA, or NHL Legend for the playoff parties and drafts (including players like Jim Plunkett, Ted Hendricks, Maury Wills, Fergie Jenkins, Sidney Moncrief, and many more). IN 1995, Sports Buff was hired to operate similar games for the first weekly fantasy baseball and fantasy football TV shows, operated by Prime Sports.

JT saw an opportunity to re-use his fantasy sports software as a marketing acquisition tool, to generate large databases of customers who played free or low cost “check box” style games and then upsold them to higher revenue salary cap games. Sports Buff marketed itself as a marketing agency, using fantasy sports games as marketing tools for media companies. They managed value-added promotions for more than 400 newspapers, radio stations, and TV stations over the years. Around 1996 he entered the Internet with

Sports Buff was sold in 1999 as part of one of the first fantasy sports roll-ups in industry history. Internet Sports Network (ISN) purchased Sports Buff and SportsMark, creating a virtual monopoly in the regional media fantasy games space in North America. ISN also purchased an online company and a content/magazine company. The integration of the roll-up did not succeed, and JT bought back the assets of Sports Buff in 2002.

JT helped create the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, and served on the Board for 12 years. He was president from 2006 to 2009 and enjoyed helping hundreds of entrepreneurs enter the business and grow their companies. He developed a plan, received Board support, and rolled out the first association-owned trade show with fellow Board members, starting with a record-breaking show in 2006.

JT also created a unique concept of single player, on-demand drafting and game play against fantasy experts and ran that under the website RapidDraft was a very realistic draft (for season long and weekly games), using algorithms they created after interviewing the experts about their strategies. The algorithm also used each season long and weekly expert rankings to feed into the draft. The customers experienced an extremely realistic draft and were able to compete with experts that had excellent historical results. He also filed and received a patent on this process, one of the few in the industry to achieve this.

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