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Iconic Strat-O-Matic games find new lift during pandemic

A Strat-O-Matic board game (Strat-O-Matic)

  • Venerable game developer on track to post best-ever year in 2020
  • Long Island-based company developing series of new business partnerships
  • Games have held prominent influence on growth of sports analytics movement

As sports fans around the world continue wrestling with a paucity of live competition due to the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the surprise industry stories emerging out of the public health crisis has been the significant business uptick for a 59-year-old maker of sports simulation games.

Strat-O-Matic, based in Glen Head, New York, doesn’t offer games with video, special effects, high-end graphics, or really, any sort of immersive technology. The company instead develops board and digital versions of its data-based games that combine real-world player statistics from Major League Baseball and several other major US pro leagues, probabilities, and dice.

But a creation founded in the 20th century and very much reflective of that simpler time is now finding unprecedented lift in the 21st.

The privately held company hasn’t released specific revenue figures. But Strat-O-Matic says that overall 2019 sales that already were the best in its long history are now on pace to be far surpassed in 2020. In April, the company’s baseball board and Windows-based game sales were up by 55 per cent compared to the same month last year. And many other corporate indicators such as new user registrations and online traffic for content such as its ongoing simulation of a 2020 MLB season not yet happening in real life, are all showing accelerating growth as well.

“Last year was the company’s biggest year ever sales-wise, and this year is totally blowing it away, which is both wonderful and strange,” says Strat-O-Matic chief executive Adam Richman, whose father, Hal, created the game as a child and then began commercially offering it as a board game in 1961. 

“But what we’re seeing in this time of disruption is that digital content companies such as ours that can come into your homes are poised for meaningful growth. And in this time of Covid-19, it’s also been a renaissance for board games. So we’re in a very fortunate position to offer both categories,” Richman says.

Still, it would seem at first blush that Strat-O-Matic would have been long ago deemed an anachronism and left to the dustbin of history. And the elder Richman indeed feared 40 years ago the company would be annihilated by home video games as they first mushroomed in mass popularity in the early 1980s. But the company survived then and is thriving now by staying true to its core tenets.

“We’re not a video game company. That’s not what the company has ever been about or will be about,” Richman says. “It’s always about the data and the accuracy and realism of the data. And I think part of our staying current in the market is that there’s a bit of a bounceback that people want things now that are actually in touch with what’s going on. Strat-O-Matic engages the mind, regardless of the platform.”

That focus on pure data, in turn, has made the company a key influencer on the analytics revolution continuing to sweep through the sports industry. Numerous sports data executives, team general managers, other senior leaders, and even Trip Hawkins, the founder of famed video game developer Electronic Arts, credit their original career development to playing Strat-O-Matic in their youth. And in many cases, they are still playing the game.

“What influenced me more than anything in my interest in analytics and baseball is playing Strat-O-Matic as a kid. It was huge,” says John Dewan, owner and chief executive of Sports Info Solutions, and before that a co-founder of Stats Inc. “It was through that game that I learned the value of players is not always well measured through traditional statistics. I give so much of my grounding to playing that game, and even after building my business, I still love playing the game now. And there’s a lot of people out there working in sports that would say the same thing.”

Strat-O-Matic chief executive Adam Richman (left) and his father, company founder Hal Richman (Strat-O-Matic)

Pivot To Content 

Though Strat-O-Matic games still play much as they did in the early 1960s and haven’t strayed far from their core premise, Richman says the company nearly a decade ago made a crucial strategic shift that has help enable its present state.

“We were a mail-order company for a long time,” he says. “We made products, and people sent in checks and called in their orders. That’s what we did. But we made the decision that we were no longer a mail-order company, and we were no longer just producing physical games, or even just digital games. We were going to look at ourselves as an e-commerce company and a tech company, because really what we’re doing is providing content using simulation.”

That structural pivot has since allowed for newer ventures such as its Strat-O-Matic 365 online platform that infuses elements of fantasy sports into its simulation-based games. And with MLB still on hiatus and negotiating with the MLB Players Association on a potential restart, Strat-O-Matic’s daily simulations of a 2020 baseball season are running in numerous media outlets around the US.

And there is more dealmaking to come shortly that will help broaden the company’s overall reach and bring Strat-O-Matic data into more places.

“What you’re going to see from us over the next few weeks are announcements of various partnerships we are entering into that I think go very much along the lines of looking at Strat-O-Matic the media and content company and how our content can be used on different platforms,” Richman says. 

As that happens, Strat-O-Matic remains essentially a family business, with a few close friends among its investor base, still operating out of its original Long Island headquarters, though with some game developers and statisticians scattered around the country. There have been numerous entreaties from interested investors over the years. But Richman says there are no plans to sell.

“We get calls all the time about acquisitions,” he says. “People call us, they want to buy us. We always listen. But our job remains to produce the leading sports simulations on the market. We talk to everybody, but we’re not out there looking to sell the business.”

And as the Covid-19 pandemic continues on and family games of many stripes take on greater prominence, there has been an unintended new form of Strat-O-Matic play happening over videoconferencing technology.

“My son, who’s an accountant and also got fascinated with numbers through Strat-O-Matic, is playing with me now in a league I started playing back in 1975 that we’ve been playing in for 45 years,” Dewan says. “That started with board games, and we now play with computers. But with the pandemic, we’ve been playing them lately over videoconferencing sharing our [computer] screens and interacting. It’s a new, cool way to play, and is another way for families and friends to bond together.”

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