Rangers baseball exec hopes fantasy charity becomes popular reality

08/30/2014 5:06 PM

11/12/2014 8:23 PM

Most of the 40 million people who play fantasy football each year essentially end up donating their entry fees to the winners of their leagues anyway, so giving a piece to charity shouldn’t be an issue.

And just 1 percent of the $2 billion spent each year on fantasy football would mean $20 million to charity. At least, that is how Texas Rangers assistant general manager Thad Levine and his friend and business partner, John Ellis, see things.

For now, $20 million is a pie-in-the-sky goal for the start-up Meaningful Wins that Levine and Ellis launched this month. But the foundation they have put in place with the biggest purveyors of fantasy football could turn $20 million into reality.

“We have no chance of doing that this year — nothing close to that — but we’re just starting,” Levine said. “The initial reaction has been great. I think we’re going to reach a threshold that we can at least feel great about. We have to get the foundation in place.”

Here’s how it works: A league commissioner creates his league at the website of his choice, makes the suggestion on donating part or even all of the prize pool to charity, and individuals owners choose which charity they would like to support and how much they want to donate.

The commissioner then registers the league at www.meaningfulwins.com, entry fees are collected and tax receipts are sent, and when the season is over, Meaningful Wins takes care of all the donations.

Leagues and owners can choose from one of Meaningful Wins’ 10 nonprofit partners, including the North Texas Food Bank and the Ebola-fighting Doctors Without Borders, or any 501 3(c) charity.

It’s not too late for leagues that have already drafted for this season to register, and leagues that are drafting through the start of NFL season have plenty of time to get signed up.

Getting winners to surrender part of their year-end prize money isn’t as difficult as it sounds. The research done for Levine and Ellis suggests that collecting cash rates third or fourth on most owners’ lists of reasons why they play fantasy football.

Bragging rights and camaraderie are the primary draws, so Meaningful Wins believes that divvying up the pot won’t be an issue.

“If you have a $100 entry fee and 12 people in the league … it can literally be $15 or the whole $1,200,” Levine said. “No amount is too small. Most leagues seem to be doing 50-50. They’re clearly saying that making money personally still matters, but they’re also still willing to give something to charity.”

Many of the leagues that have initially signed up with Meaningful Wins are full of current and retired big league ballplayers.

Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, inducted into the Hall of Fame last month, are in a league run by former Rangers pitcher John Burkett that has signed on. All-time Rangers hits leader Michael Young is involved, along with more than 100 others throughout professional sports.

“To play for a cause and to give just a percentage of the money to a nonprofit, it’s a great idea,” Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre said. “It makes sense. I’m all for it.”

The hope is that enough leagues will sign up this season so that Levine and Ellis can approach the big boys of fantasy sports such as ESPN.com and CBSSports.com with tangible numbers that will convince those websites to add Meaningful Wins to their sign-up process.

When that happens, the $20 million threshold could be attainable.

“To really blow this out, we’re hoping that at the end of this season we can approach those types of entities and say, ‘We have some critical mass behind this,’ ” Levine said. “ ‘If you can integrate us into your platform, now we’re accessing a larger portion of the 40 million people who play fantasy sports. Let’s see what this can become.’ ”

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