The NFL is now entering week six, which means fantasy football is in full swing. Rosters are essentially set and fantasy players need to work to keep their teams ahead — checking stats and making sure they make the best decisions on who to bench and who to play.
The amount of time and effort that goes into making a successful fantasy team seems almost ridiculous. In the midst of work, school and other pulls on time, people somehow find time to be constantly looking at how their teams are doing and how to make their teams better. With so many real-life things going on, why do people spend their time playing fantasy football?
Fantasy football began in 1962 with a part-owner of the Oakland Raiders, Wilfred Winkenbach. Winkenbach, along with Bill Tunnel and Scotty Starling, created a rulebook during one of the Raiders’ cross-country trips to New York. The first fantasy league took place in Winkenbach’s home and was called the Greater Oakland Pigskin Prognosticators League.
The game’s popularity grew slowly over the years, but exploded in 1997 when CBS released an online version. Since then, fantasy football and other fantasy sports have become a major part of sports culture.
Forbes magazine reported last year that fantasy sports overall net $15 billion, more than two-thirds of which is from football. The report also projected the total amount of time fantasy football players spend on the game combined to be 1.2 billion hours. Fantasy has become more than a national pastime — it’s become a national obsession. Even the threat of a lockout in 2011 didn’t slow fantasy football’s momentum.
However, fantasy is starting to play a larger role on the business side of the NFL as well.
Because of fantasy football, both Monday night and Thursday night football have seen a huge spike in viewers. Before fantasy was popular, fans only watched weekday games if their teams were playing. With fantasy, every game and every team matters.
The rise in viewers has made it worthwhile for major television networks such as NBC, Fox, ESPN and CBS to pay for the highly priced television rights for the games.
The fantasy industry is huge and still growing, but aside from more money for the NFL, why has it become such an important aspect of culture?
In 2011, The Hollywood Reporter ran a story on celebrities, such as Paul Rudd and the cast of The League on FX, who are big fantasy players. These interviews gave insight as to why people continue to contribute to one of the NFL’s fastest-growing revenue producers.
The most common answers were that it’s a good distraction and helps them connect with friends.
In his interview for the article, Rudd stressed how fantasy can be used to gauge how life is going.
“It’s just such a great distraction from life,” Rudd said. “If you’re getting so into fantasy football and the worst thing that happens is your wide receiver got zero points, life’s okay.”
Entourage star Jerry Ferrara is the self-proclaimed biggest fantasy football fan in the world. For him, though, it’s about friendship. He said that he has been in the same league for the past six years, a league comprised of his closest friends.
“Sometimes life just gets in the way of friendship,” he said. “Fantasy football gives us a carved out, set-in-cement friendship routine.”
Football players are fantasy fans for more than just the enjoyment of it. San Diego tight end Antonio Gates told The Hollywood Reporter in the same article that through fantasy, he can connect to fans who don’t watch his team regularly.
“People run up to you, and they’re excited about meeting you, but they don’t really know what you look like, they just probably heard the name,” he said. “Fantasy football has given me the opportunity to broaden my horizons with people who don’t really watch football.”
Essentially, fantasy football isn’t only a cash cow for the NFL. There are other reasons that legitimize fantasy football as a hobby with benefits that extend beyond what fantasy is on the surface.
I just hope that people don’t think that just because fantasy football is about sports that it is any less nerdy than any other fantasy-based game.