By Rick Horrow
Throughout the next week, millions of Americans will start playing for the National Football League.
While they won’t be suiting up on offense or defense, men, women, and kids of all ages will hold their fantasy league drafts for the upcoming NFL season – a growing interactive annual phenomenon that has helped the NFL bulk up to the close to $34 billion business it is today. (That number is largely derived from adding up the individual valuations of the league’s 32 teams, starting with the $3.2 billion Dallas Cowboys, according to Forbes’ 2014 NFL calculations.)
While the league that has long been considered the gold standard in professional sports derives little direct income from fantasy football participation, overall, fantasy sports is now an industry in which people are spending more than $4 billion and growing annually—not including sponsors and advertisers who take advantage of fantasy digital platforms and broadcast opportunities, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.
Participation in NFL fantasy leagues is the bedrock of that $4 billion annual spend, with the FSTA estimating that people who play fantasy football spend an average of eight hours a week on their passion, not counting the hours they spend actually watching NFL games.
That high level of engagement makes us think that it’s time to give the NFL a more elevated title. Instead of just the “gold standard,” from here on out let’s just call the NFL what it really is: the Ultimate Fantasy League.
Why is fantasy football so popular?
According to Bill Squadron, head of Bloomberg Sports, speaking with host Mark Crumpton on Bloomberg’s “Bottom Line,” people love it because it “allows them to get engaged with the game—even if it’s not their home team—become a general manager, compete with their friends, do a little smack talking, and in the case with the latest craze, daily fantasy games [such as those offered by DraftKings, DraftStreet, DraftDay, and FanEx, among the like] win some money.
“It’s a growing industry,” Squadron notes, “and people are spending money and having a good time.”
One clear area of fantasy sports growth is the proliferation of media outlets dedicated to the practice.
This fall, fantasy football owners are getting their own channel as part of DirecTV’s exclusive “NFL Sunday Ticket” package. The network is adding the DirecTV “Fantasy Zone” to its lineup right next to its uber popular “Red Zone” channel.
DirecTV’s Fantasy Zone channel will focus solely on how live on-field action is affecting fantasy stats, with up to the minute game-to-game analysis and on-screen tickers that offer projections and player updates. To draw a wider audience, especially women, Fantasy Zone programming will include celebrity guest hosts, a live studio audience, and even an on-set kitchen where a chef will whip up tailgating type recipes for viewers at home, according to the net.
Launched last month was a new partnership between the world’s first ever 24/7 Fantasy Sports TV Network (FNTSY) and Bloomberg Sports that includes a daily 30-minute show on fantasy and sports analytics, “Bloomberg Sports Stats Insights.” Hosted by BSports’ Shannon Sommerville, the show takes a daily look at the numbers behind all fantasy sports, with features, guests and news for both daily and season-long fantasy players and sports fans.
“Analytics and statistics are critical components of fantasy sports culture,” said Chad Midgley, Vice President of Content at FNTSY. “We are thrilled about our collaboration with the world’s leading data technology company. Our viewers will have access to the most accurate data-driven projections in the sports world, giving them a clear edge whether they play in daily or season-long fantasy sports leagues.”
Online fantasy sports sites have also proliferated, with Yahoo Sports, ESPN, and others long offering free fantasy draft kits and other league management tools. While traditional print media outlets have been a little slower to jump into the fantasy game, USA Today Sports just completely revamped its fantasy home page, presenting a new daily fantasy game, FantasyScore. Sports Illustrated joined the foray in July with FanNation, a free daily fantasy download developed in partnership with TopLine Games.
Even the satirical website/channel The Onion is “rolling out the second season of its original web series ‘Tough Season,’ a mockumentary about one man’s quest to become champion of his fantasy football league.” The 5-minute episodes are being produced on behalf of technology company Lenovo, according to AdAge, and will feature NFL players including Matt Forte, Andrew Luck, and Wes Welker.
Sports facilities are getting into the game as well. The Jacksonville Jaguars last year added a glitzy fantasy lounge at EverBank Field that proved so popular with fans there was often a long line waiting to get in.
And at brand new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, “our 40 Gigabits per second of available internet bandwidth – 4 times the NFL standard for stadiums for 2015 – will enable people to use their smart phones to check fantasy stats more easily than any other U.S. stadium,” says Roger Hacker, Senior Manager of Corporate Communications for the San Francisco 49ers. “The Yahoo Fantasy Football Lounge will keep fans with access to the club connected to their fantasy team by televising multiple games, as will a fantasy sports ticker within the interior of the club,” Hacker adds.
Last year, the FSTA gave BSports an award for its own fantasy football draft kit, built by a combination of mathematicians, engineers, and football experts—a strategy the company deploys with all of its fantasy sports models. When asked on air for some “sleeper” fantasy picks, Squadron named Ryan Fitzpatrick in Houston, Mark Ingram in New Orleans, and James Jones in Oakland.
Skeptical? BSports picked Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy as its #1 sleeper pick in 2013. That seemed to turn out well for all involved.
BSports 2014 Top Running Backs (with projected yards)
1. Jamaal Charles 1236
2. Lesean McCoy 1385
3. Adrian Peterson 1324
4. Eddie Lacy 1224
5. Matt Forte 1175
BSports 2014 Top Fantasy Wide Receivers (with projected touchdowns)
1. Calvin Johnson 12.1
2. Demaryius Thomas 11.9
3. Dez Bryant 11.6
4. Brandon Marshall 10.0
5. A.J. Green 10.2
Follow Rick Horrow (@RickHorrow) and Karla Swatek (@kswak) on Twitter.