We’re smack-dab in the middle of the NFL season and fantasy football is in full swing. Leagues are crammed with co-workers, random family members, and old college buddies who set player lineups on a weekly basis, hoping their imaginary teams can finally take home a championship. As a growing seasonal “hobby,” the popularity of this new pastime has been overwhelming.
The Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) reports that 33 million people in the United States are participants in fantasy sports this year, with the majority focusing on football. And even though 80 percent of them are men, women, too, have joined in on the fun. For novice fans, it’s just a great way to stay engaged with the masters of the gridiron. But for others, it’s all about the money.
Fantasy football is an idea that was formed more than 50 years ago, basically out of boredom. As an “owner” of a team composed of real NFL players, you play scheduled weekly games against other owners’ teams in your league. A winner is crowned based on the sum of points derived from the statistical output of your “drafted” players. This concept has slowly evolved over time into the national obsession we have today, and it’s featured on many sports websites that provide online platforms to set up individual leagues.
According to the FSTA, the fantasy industry is estimated to draw more than $1.2 billion this year, with the average person spending $467 on a league. This has the NFL licking its chops as it comes up with ways to parlay the phenomenon into new opportunities to market its merchandise. When someone has a particular player on a fantasy roster, there’s more of a possibility that he or she will buy that player’s branded merchandise. The NFL currently sees annual revenue of around $10 billion, which only continues to grow.
Other companies also see dollar signs with the potential of fantasy football. DirecTV paid $4 billion for four years for the rights to NFL Sunday Ticket, the cable provider’s signature package that broadcasts every football game without regional restrictions. With a price tag of $225 for its customers, “the ticket” has a feature that alerts you when your fantasy players score points. For many, it’s an essential resource for keeping up with live statistics.
As much as this trend gives moneymaking prospects to big businesses, it also sets up serious monetary opportunities for fans. A great number of adult fantasy owners draft their players just to engage in a battle for thousands of dollars in cash prizes. The FSTA found that — in all — $1.18 billion is used for betting purposes through pools every year.
Some leagues become so intense and competitive that bosses around the country are complaining that their employees are slacking while on the clock. In fact, a study by the Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas says fantasy football is actually costing employers about $6.5 billion in lost work time across a 15-week season. But with the NFL now banking on the activity for about six months out of the year, it’s here to stay. There are high stakes involved, and fantasy leagues have been known to pay dividends in more ways than one.