The League is a show that’s had an interesting path to success. Its creators weren’t particularly known for their subtle comedic genius, having been responsible for such rousing classics as EuroTrip, The Dictator, and Bruno. It’s main cast were relative unknowns when the series debuted in 2009. Even its main subject matter, fantasy football, hadn’t yet gained its full level of popularity or renown until the show itself blew up in popularity. Despite all these odds working against it though, The League managed to turn itself from an obscure comedy all the way into generation-defining territory.
To completely understand the popularity of the series, we need to first observe the culture that defines it: Fantasy football. It’s hard to track when exactly it first picked up steam, but it’s not difficult to see the direct effect The League had in changing the landscape. In its core nature, fantasy sports are based in things like statistics and probability (aka fields of interest not usually associated with your average sports fan). And yet somehow, it’s transcended the boundary between math and sports and turned into a full-blown craze. As The Verge puts it, “more people play fantasy football than live in the 18 least populated states combined,” numbering right around a cool 33 million.
Much of this boom in popularity can be attributed to The League showing us just how much fantasy football can affect lives in its most extreme form. For the uninitiated, the series takes place in Chicago, following a group of friends who will each do anything (and we mean anything) to win their annual fantasy league. Each season of the show takes place concurrently with the actual football season, making it so the real life stakes of the NFL come into play in the otherwise fictional series. With this, fantasy football, and by extension The League, has become one of the NFL’s most powerful marketing tools.
Not even taking into account the lucrative licensing deal the NFL likely has with FX in order to prominently display their brand (and players), The League works on a few different levels. On one, it plays around with character archetypes that everyone can associate with. Ruxin is the uptight and sometimes devious one in the group. Taco is the lovable burnout and comedic relief. Kevin and Jenny are the suburban couple both happy in their marriage and bored with their lives. Andre is the butt of every joke. Most friend groups can associate with at least one character in that bunch, and even more so within their fantasy leagues that have been running for years.
On an even deeper level, people want their comedy to sympathize with their own life struggles. In the case of The League, it’s associating directly with peoples’ frustration (or elation) over fantasy football, a pastime the FSTA estimates 20-30 million people spend up to 3 hours every week on. The show arrived on the scene at a time when fantasy sports were beginning to truly boom. Whereas before people lacked an outlet in the realm of Hollywood to associate with their newfound passion, suddenly they had a full series that understood their obscure hobby in a whole new way. The timing could not have been more perfect, and FX has reaped the benefits in the years since.
The League‘s 7th and final season debuted just this month, and even almost a decade in it’s still gaining steam. For as long as fantasy football remains prominent, the show’s legacy will live on as the catalyst for a whole generation’s odd obsession with fake sports. The NFL will continue to utilize it as a tool for marketing their brand in a time when their public image couldn’t be worse, and the network and writers get to take this all the way to the bank. The Age of Fantasy Football is here, and in a lot of ways, we have The League to thank.
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