SI Teams With MIT Blackjack Ace to Make Facebook Apps

You already know Jeff Ma’s story. He’s the guy who led a team of MIT students to fame and fortune by counting cards at some of Vegas’s biggest casinos (the movie 21 is based on him, as is the novel Bringing Down the House). Now, Ma’s company Citizen Sports has teamed up with Sports Illustrated to bring a set of feature-rich fantasy sports apps to Facebook that Ma hopes will rival the likes of CBS Sportsline and and Yahoo Sports.

It’s no secret that many of the apps on Facebook are spammy pieces of junk that are installed, discarded, and replaced with little ceremony. Because of the rapid turnover, few developers put much time into their efforts, which simply aggravates the issue. Ma says that his company is trying to break this trend by coming out with more fully-featured applications. For instance, the new Facebook apps, planned for release in July, will include real-time stat tracking, live draft capabilities, and all of the others features seen on the most popular fantasy sports sites.

Citizen Sports recently teamed up with Sports Illustrated for the SI Facebook March Madness app, which was completely overshadowed by CBS’s controversial Facebook-sanctioned offering. The “Official” CBS application was pretty awful, but many users were under the impression that it was the only application available, leaving the competition in the dust. In light of the debacle, Facebook has assured Citizen Sports that it will refrain from making any such endorsements in the future.

Ma and his team at Citizen Sports are no strangers to the sports market. They created Protrade, a virtual stock market that lets you buy, trade, and sell your favorite athletes. They’ve also created a number of simple team-based sports apps on Facebook that have over 4.5 million users total. And the company’s board of directors includes the likes of Kevin Compton (owner of the San Jose Sharks), ex-49er star Brent Jones, and Jeff Morad (owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks).

Ma faces stiff competition from Yahoo, Sportsline, and Facebook developer Watercooler. But if he knows one thing, it is how to stack the chips on his favor. By partnering with SI, there’s a good chance he can piggyback on its brand to make Citizen Sports the premier sports-app company on Facebook. Don’t bet against him.