Each Sunday from September to February, men and women alike sit on their couches and fill stadiums across the country to watch NFL games. And nearly 60 million Americans currently play fantasy sports, two-thirds of whom participate in fantasy football. Do the majority of football fans root harder for their hometown NFL franchise or their homemade fantasy football squad?
Here’s what we know. Fantasy football began in 1962. A man by the name of Wilfred Winkenbach, part owner of the Oakland Raiders, gathered one night with some friends in a small New York City hotel room. Together, they created the first fantasy football league. GOPPPL as it was named, launched a phenomenon now spanning almost sixty years. But fantasy football didn’t become an everyday way of life for millions of people until the late 1990’s when it went online. In 1997, sports websites like Yahoo, ESPN, and CBS took the craze to an entirely different level.
In its most basic form, fantasy football is the creation of one’s own personal football roster, created from actual NFL players. This can be done by gathering a group of friends, co-workers, or even complete strangers in leagues of 10, 12, or 14. Each week throughout the football season, you set your own individual lineups based on which players you think will be most successful and compile the highest statistics. Just like the NFL. The team that wins the most games, is crowned the champion.
Why is fantasy football so popular?
1. Fun. Creating a team of your own can truly be rewarding while you play the role of general manager. In many ways, you are the GM. The only difference is, the players on your team aren’t really yours. You don’t have to actually pay them to play for you. You don’t need to go to an office every morning. But every day for six months, you get to set your rosters, scour the waiver wire for new players, come up with a team name, make trades with your old college buddies, and sit down on Sundays and root for each player you’ve chosen to score touchdowns. What’s better than that? If one has their “own team” in addition to their favorite NFL franchise for which to root, it adds greatly to the entertainment value of the NFL season for a fantasy football owner. You’ve doubled your pleasure. You get to cheer on the team you’ve invested in since you were a kid, and also the one you created with your friends many years ago in your friend’s basement.
2. Drafts! Perhaps the highlight of every fantasy football season is the first night. This is when you create your team. When you get together with those in your league and pick your teams. What’s so enjoyable about draft night? It’s when you sit around with your friends, talk sports, drink a few beers, enjoy each other’s company, and decide which players are going to lead your team to the promise land.
3. Bragging rights. My personal favorite. Many of these leagues are composed of people who know each other. Whether it’s with kids you grew up with, friends from college, or just buddies from work, most fantasy footballers play to hold the trophy at the end of the season, so they can say to their friends for years to come, “I beat you.”
4. Money. For many, the popularity of this isn’t just a hobby. It’s a way to add to your wallet. Many leagues have an entry fee. Then at the end of each season, cash prizes are awarded to the winners of each league. Who doesn’t want to win money?
5. It’s good for business. Studies have shown that people who play are more than two times as likely to follow the NFL “very closely.” Why? Because every owner wants to watch as many games as possible. Not just their favorite team. This translates to higher ratings, larger revenues, and increased engagement in the NFL product. An agreement in 2011 reached by the NFL, teams, and networks alike, stated that all “stats” must be shown during games on big screens at homes and stadiums. This allows fantasy owners to see how their players are performing on any given Sunday. For millions of Americans, fantasy sports can be an addiction. Whether it’s getting up at 5:00 a.m. each Wednesday to check your waiver acquisitions, adding a random U.S. city to your weather app to see if the conditions will be okay for your kicker, or lying in bed at night thinking about your weekly lineup. It can be addicting. Some sports junkies can’t get enough. And it’s a gambling problem for some. But for the vast majority, it’s an innocent hobby that brings joy to millions. The fantasy life is a life you chose. One that many have invested time and money in for almost sixty years. And it doesn’t seem like that’s ending anytime soon.