Fantasy Football: The Rise of a New Industry

It’s August 28, 2015, two weeks before football season begins. It’s two hours until first pick. I am scrambling. I scroll through lists of fantasy projections and analysis for the upcoming 2015-2016 NFL football season. Who is going to be a sleeper pick? Who is going to be a bust? Are there going to be any rookie breakouts? As I do my last-minute research, I make notes on my phone of who I may be able to draft where. I have had my computer on the charger all day long, making sure it is on 100% by the start of the draft.

The draft festivities are at Ben Greer’s (‘16) house. I leave my house about an hour and 15 minutes early to make sure I am there at least an hour early. At Ben’s house, I find a room to camp out in where I can be completely focused, which ends up being his family room. I continue last-minute research and map out who I could draft in each round. Everyone else was in the garage (right next to the family room) making fun of me for having to be in my own room. I don’t care, though, because I am taking them all down, no matter what they think. While on my computer, I give input to Ben, who is on Papa John’s website trying to figure out what pizzas to buy. I yell to him with my lowered voice, “Get meat-lovers. We love the meats.”

15 minutes before the draft, the pizza arrives, as has everyone in the league. We load our plates with pizza and begin some friendly smack talk about who will have the best team this year.

One minute until start time. I am starting to feel nervous. I have the third pick. I have mapped out every scenario possible for the first two picks and have a strong sense of who I will be drafting.

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ESPN Fantasy Football Draft Software

It is my pick. I start to break out into a slight sweat. The worst case scenario has happened: the top two running backs have already been drafted. I start to second guess my backup pick. The clock is ticking down. Do I draft the next best running back, or do I get a top receiver or quarterback? Ten seconds left. My heart rate has skyrocketed. Three seconds. Two seconds. One second. I frantically click pick on the number three projected running back, Eddie Lacy from the Green Bay Packers.

Throughout the rest of the draft, there were surprising picks, steals of picks, and questionable picks. Each time Team Granger was up to pick, I would go through a similar routine of second guessing and make a rushed, last-second decision.

After the draft is over, the festivities simmer down, and the smack talk ramps up. Everyone has that similar feeling: This is my year. I’ve got that best team.  

After the festivities are over and everyone has gone home, there is still work that needs to be done. Drafting a fantasy football team is such a rush that when you get home, all you can think about is your team and how to possibly win the championship this year. When I got home, I sat down and reopened my computer and closely examined my team and the rest of the teams. After examining the competition, I will make trade offers to almost all 10 teams in the league and sometimes multiple. Usually they all get denied, because the trades I offer are sometimes outrageous, and some people do not believe in trading before the season starts. No matter the result of the trades, for me making the trades is just one of the many thrills that comes with the start of the fantasy football season.

The origins of fantasy football date back to 1962, when Wilfred “Bill the Gill” Winkenbach, an Oakland-area businessman and a limited partner in the Oakland Raiders, developed a system and a rulebook that would eventually evolve into modern fantasy football. He created the idea in a New York hotel room, along with Raiders public relations man Bill Tunnel and Oakland Tribune columnist Scotty Stirling, before one of the Raiders’ away games. This idea would lead to the inaugural league, the GOPPPL (Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League). The league consisted of eight different people somehow connected with the Raiders organization. The first draft took place in the rumpus room of Winkenbach’s home in Oakland, California in August 1963. However, fantasy football would not explode until the advent of the Internet. The Internet made fantasy football much more accessible to everyone by providing software and statistics that make it much less time-consuming and more organized than in the pre-online era.

According to Gregory Bresiger of the New York Post, nearly 75 million people will play fantasy football in 2015. This number has more than doubled from just 33 million people in 2014. Fantasy football is on the rise, and many expect for it to continue to rise at rapid rates.

One of the reasons why fantasy football is booming is because of how easy it is and how little time and effort are needed. With the NFL regular season only being 17 weeks, and teams only playing 16 games a year, fantasy owners only need to set their lineup once a week for about four months. Compare that to attempting to set a lineup for baseball season, with 162 games, or an NBA season, with 82. Also, football is more of an “event” sport. With games mainly only occuring on Sunday, this allows the media to build up excitement and analysis throughout the week.

With fantasy football growing at such rapid rates and so much excitement surrounding it, there are so many different people and businesses who are now profiting off of fantasy football. Some restaurants are now competing to offer the ultimate draft experience. Buffalo Wild Wings is one of those restaurants, and they now offer a draft package for your fantasy league to have the best experience. This draft package includes pocket schedules for the members of the league, a special bottle opener, coupons, a draft big board, and a “brag flag” for the league champion. Also restaurants, especially sports bars, compete to have the most TVs with the most games on each Sunday so that fantasy owners can even follow their players playing games not broadcasted in the local market.

Fantasy football has also changed the way people watch football, allowing cable and satellite TV companies to profit on this. The best example of this is the Redzone channel. This channel is a little utopia for fantasy football players. The channel only airs from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays. Before the 1 p.m. kickoffs, Red Zone airs a fantasy football-dedicated show to help owners set their lineups for the upcoming games based on players’ matchup and injury updates. Then after the 1 p.m. games kick off, it is seven hours of commercial-free football displaying whip-around coverage to all the games going on in the NFL. Redzone prides itself on showing every touchdown from every game—the plays that are the most fantasy-relevant. The show then comes to an end by showing a touchdown montage, where it replays each touchdown from the day into one long clip.

DraftKings

Image credit: draftkings.com

In this past year, there has been a major boom in daily fantasy sports. Daily fantasy football consists of one-week leagues where players can enter in different contests with various amounts of entry fees. Players can pick a new team each week, and based on the teams’ statistical performance, the player could win cash prizes. If you ever have watched any sporting event this year, you would have likely have seen a commercial during every commercial break for a daily fantasy company. This is partially because this new industry, according to Inc. Magazine, is the third most profitable industry in the United States, topped only by on­line survey software and human services/payroll software. One of the industry leaders in fantasy sports, FanDuel, reports on its website having paid out over $560 million and projects to pay out at least $1 billion by the end of the year. 

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Image credit: fanduel.com

However, the legality of online fantasy sports has come under close examination recently. This short video goes over the basics behind daily fantasy sports and why it is still legal. Daily fantasy sports has been able to get around the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act because, under the law, online daily fantasy sports are considered a game of skill. With the industry being relatively new, there has not been much regulation at all, which has lead to various instances within the industry. Different states have taken action already against the daily fantasy industry by calling it gambling. Most notably, Nevada ordered daily fantasy to shut down in the state until the companies obtained a gambling license. One of the first cases that came up was an insider trading scandal between DraftKings and FanDuel.

DraftKings has acknowledged that confidential information was leaked by an employee, and that same employee was able to win $350,000 at rival website FanDuel. NFL players have also lashed out against daily fantasy sports. Recently, Pierre Garcon, wide receiver of the Washington Redskins, filed a lawsuit against FanDuel on behalf of NFL players. According to the suit, “This case is about FanDuel trying to profit on plaintiff Garcon’s success, and that of other NFL athletes, without compensating them.”

To gain more perspective on daily fantasy sports, I talked with Charlie Beam, a 42-year-old avid daily fantasy sports player. Charlie has won over $15,000 playing daily fantasy sports over the past few years, entering hundreds of dollars in entries weekly. Charlie is a strong advocate for keeping daily fantasy football legal. One of his explanations includes, “people have a choice to do something or not do something. If they don’t like daily fantasy sports they don’t have to play it. If they do like it, then they should be able to play it. And they shouldn’t have a politician in Washington who doesn’t know their situation tell them what is best for them.” Charlie is also very aware of the argument that daily fantasy football could be considered as illegal because some people consider it to be gambling instead of a game of skill. Charlie believes it truly is a game of skill because, “you have to do extensive research on each player to fit underneath the salary caps and find the value plays to score the big points and win the big money.” He also went on to mention that, “you can’t just throw any lineup together because you like certain players, you have to research their matchup or else you will lose money.” Charlie also had strong opinions on why Las Vegas and Nevada want daily fantasy sports to be considered gambling. He states that, “Vegas is upset because they are losing the market to the daily fantasy sports industry and Vegas is [now] paying lobbyists to go in and make daily fantasy illegal.” He then goes on to explain, “if you take FanDuel and DraftKings together, they have brought in more money this football season then all the Vegas sports books combined.”

eddielacy

Eddie Lacy. Photo credit: eddielacyrb.com

This year in my fantasy football league, my team has had a rollercoaster like season. I started the season strong with a blowout win 139-79.3 over Team Angstadt, just to get blown out next by Team Justice, 48.3-85.4. My star running back, Eddie Lacy of the Green Bay Packers, whom I drafted as my first round pick, rushed for only nine yards that game before being carted off the field due to an ankle injury. He hasn’t been himself since, and was recently named the biggest fantasy disappointment of the year by ESPN and many others. I have made adjustments by trading with Team Reify and Team Chucker; however, my team has sputtered to a 4-5 start. With my history of being one of the top teams in the league, I have received a lot of smack talk from fellow league members. In particular, Ben Greer, whose team has had a hot start, roaring to a league-best 8-1 record, often mocks me by saying, “Well, at least your team was best on paper” (knowing I am a very statistically-based person).

No matter what happens in the daily fantasy realm, normal season-long fantasy football will always be a entertaining activity among friends, coworkers, and family members. Fantasy football will always be a platform for excitement, suspense, disappointment, and bragging rights.  I will leave you with this clip demonstrating the day in the life of a fantasy football player. 

 

About the author

Gordon Granger is a senior at Collegiate