Nearly 30 million people in the United States and Canada “manage” a fantasy football team consisting of professional athletes. However, those “managers” don’t have to pay their players a salary, nor focus their attention and energy on television contracts or practices. In the world of fantasy football, they often spend their time stressing over last-minute lineup changes and potentially season-decimating transactions. In this world, obsession rules.
Groups of individuals join together to form fictional football leagues, where the rosters are made up of National Football League (NFL) players whose real-life counterparts score points for their fantasy owners. Leagues are typically hosted on websites such as ESPN.com, Yahoo! Sports and NFL.com, which provide the applications that calculate the scoring for the league.
The teams can be made up of friends, family members, coworkers or even strangers, who participate with the goal of being the fantasy football champion. Owners can provide their team a name of their choosing; some opt to use this playground as an opportunity to pay homage to a favorite team or player, while others might reference icons and/or figures of pop culture. Each week of the NFL season, those managing a fantasy team, face off against other owners in their league, with the sole goal being to score more “fantasy points” than their opponent.
Some leagues, however, use a scoring system referred to as a“rotisserie” system. This format does not include head-to-head match-ups between owners, but instead features a race to see which team can accumulate the most fantasy points over the course of the 17-week NFL season. These owners are forced to make weekly decisions based on “their” players’ recent production, injuries, defensive match-ups and even projections published by experts from sports reference outlets.
Head-to-head leagues typically have a few rounds of playoffs that occur during the final weeks of the NFL’s regular season. (As not every NFL team makes the actual playoffs, therefore, players on certain fantasy teams would become worthless in such a scenario.) The owner of the fantasy team that comes out on top of their respective league generally wins money that was pooled by the owners prior to the start of the season, bragging rights among his or her opponents and in some cases, a trophy that rotates from champion to champion with each passing year.
Since the game’s inception in 1962, when it was devised as outlet for the obsessions of football fanatics, it has grown from a single-league entity with only a few participants, to a billion dollar industry.
In the last four years, the rising popularity of fantasy football even spawned a television sitcom, “The League,” which premiered in October 2009 and dramatizes the daily lives and relationships of a group of friends whose lives revolve around their exaggerated obsessions with managing their fantasy football league. The FX series began its fifth season in September 2013.
According to FOX Business, males in their mid-30s comprise the largest percentage of fantasy football players. The same article, however, states that the recent influx of participants stems predominantly from teenagers. Paul Charchian, the Fantasy Sports Trade Association President, was quoted saying in the same article.
“A lot of fantasy football’s growth is coming from the younger generation,” he said, “Parents are playing with their kids. The growth is happening organically. We’re not targeting a specific demographic; rather it’s what families want to happen in their living rooms on Sundays.”
Some of the most dedicated participants spend an average of nine hours each week researching and making decisions for their fantasy football team; all in hopes of capturing a victory over friends, family members, coworkers or even complete strangers. In fact, a global outplacement employment firm, Challenger, Gray & Christmas crunched the numbers and discovered that those nine hours spent by individuals with their fantasy teams, costs companies, nationwide, a combined $6.5 billion per year. Firm CEO, John Challenger, in a radio appearance on WWL-AM870 in New Orleans, LA explained just how that happens.
“Undoubtedly they’re going to be spending hours and hours in coming days,” he said, “on their drafts, on their rosters, on talking about their players as the games occur.”
While its presence in the workplace may cause people to associate it with time-wasting and lack of focus on a required task, there are some who regard the competition as a way in which co-workers can bond and build chemistry with one another. Employment Law Today editor, Katie Loehrke, believes that fantasy football can have a mixed effect on a workplace. She indicates that for most employers, it is a fine line to walk between team-building and productivity.
The league may be creating and costing billions of dollars, but its participants continue to experience a connection with a game that allows them to feel even more significantly a part of the actual game of football. Jake Glaser, of the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, explained the draw for football fans.
“It’s about pride and bragging rights,” he explained, “For people like us that care about sports, it’s all about those bragging rights that we can hold over our friends.”
For many, it can be about the power. There is a draw to second-guessing the coaching staffs of the professional teams. Ray Ferrari, a junior communications major at Loyola Marymount University (LMU,) who has been participating in fantasy football for over seven years, described exactly that aspect of the experience in an interview.
“It makes me feel like I have a bigger contribution to the world of sports than I actually do,” he explained, “Having the say in who starts, who gets benched and who gets cut when it comes to millionaire superstars just feels so empowering.”
The fact that NFL games only occur once a week in comparison to other sports, such as basketball and baseball, make its fantasy sport more appealing and accessible to certain fantasy players. The experience is enhanced by the build-up to the game over the course of a week. Unlike with other sports, where games happen several times per week, fantasy football does not require a participant to engage daily in order to be competitive. It provides an experience which can be monitored all week, but that does not need the constant attention.”
For some participants, fantasy sports provides them with an outlet to get their gambling fix. With others, it facilitates communication with geographically distant family members. The NFL is a nationally broadcast entertainment. It is discussed in every newspaper, on every radio, and online in myriad forms. It is universally available, and makes an easy point of contact for individuals, no matter how distant they are geographically.
While only 30 individuals are able to occupy the role of “NFL General Manager” at any given time, fantasy football permits fans of all forms the opportunity to develop an even more intimate relationship with the game of football. Whether in the office or with friends and family members, the growing cyber sport has finally allowed those wishing to fulfill aspirations of managing an NFL team, a chance to almost live out such dreams. The obsession is theoretically optional.
By Michael Goldsholl