Prize Leagues: WTF, ESPN?

I just noticed this prize leagues thing on ESPN’s fantasy football website. Apparently, you can pay $29.95 per team to join or start a league that is functionally exactly the same as a free league, but at the end of the season you might just maybe win some fabulous prizes, such as… Best Buy gift cards? (Three total will be awarded, for a grand total value of $5,000.) The real kicker is this part:

100 Winners [sic] Circle points will be awarded to each Prize-Eligible League Champion for every league won…┬áThe approximate retail value (“ARV”) for each League prize is $15.00.

So if you win the league that you paid $29.95 in real money to enter, you’ll win $15 in Winner’s Circle Points, which as I pointed out last season are basically equivalent to skee-ball tickets at the penny arcade.

Tellingly, I had to create a league just to find out how much it costs – they don’t reveal the price until you get a few steps along in the process (reminds me of an online store that waits until the final checkout page to tell that you the shipping on your DVD will be $9.99).

Who the hell does this?! Actually, come to think of it… if I pay my $29.95, am I more or less guaranteed to win the grand prize because I’ll be the only person on the planet who signs up?