The Reality of Fantasy Football
What started out over twenty years ago as a nerdy pursuit for sports fans too old or too “cool” to continue playing dungeons and dragons has become a big time business. Millions of people now “play” fantasy football, and an entire information/ media ecosystem has been created to support and enhance the experience. A Google Search for fantasy football news will yield nearly 30 million listings. There are now experts and celebrity personalities within the Fantasy Football community. What was once a quirky niche amusement for serious fans now occupies a place in popular culture and at the watercooler conversation in many workplaces. For those who don’t play, I hope to demystify how it works so everyone can best follow it and stay in the game..
At its most basic level, fantasy football allows fans to form “leagues” and compete against friends and coworkers by “drafting” teams of NFL players. Each team has a specific number of player positions (e.g., running back, quarterback), but those players can be chosen from any real NFL team on which they play those positions. Thus, the typical fantasy team roster consists of players from many different teams, making the average fantasy player interested in keeping track of many games. The competition is based on points earned by the actual players during actual games played, which are then added up for the players who make up the fantasy team roster. Designed to mirror the real NFL schedule, players compete for the entire season — with weekly play, leading to a round of playoffs, and ultimately the crowning of a full season champion.
Successful play of fantasy football requires serious time commitment and engagement. Like real life NFL General Managers and Head Coaches, this can equate to a full time job. Fantasy football team owners not only must spend time preparing for the annual draft to put together a team with great potential; also, on an ongoing basis they must manage the team roster and set the starting lineup for weekly play. This requires paying attention to “real” football, to track which players are playing or not playing (watching the league’s “waiver wire,” which lists which players have been dropped from or added to the lineup, and indicates available players), monitor the offensive and defensive matchups associated with the players in one’s roster, and follow news updates and injury reports. A fantasy team owner must also review proposals from other fantasy team owners in their league to trade players, and consider making such proposals themselves.
Once the Annual draft happens (right around Labor Day, before the first game is played), the typical weekly mindset of a fantasy team owner is as follows:
- Tuesday – Thursday: Planning the roster – which players to play. This requires analysis of available data to decide which players to play in that week’s lineup. The lineup is due on Thursdays, one hour before the first NFL game is played for the week.
- Thursday-Monday: “Game Day” (which typically begins with a Thursday night game and lasts through Monday Night Football), during which the players’ real life performance translate to points for the fantasy team.
Game Day is anticlimactic for the fantasy team owner because all the rosters and lineups are set. There’s little more to do besides relax and watch the drama unfold. As NFL games unfold, players accumulate points based on actual performance by “their” players on the field — rushing, receiving, and passing yards, touchdowns, interceptions, field goals, sacks, safeties, fumbles, points allowed – which are all tallied up real time, and pumped through the automated league scoring system to enable team owners to track their team’s total performance. When all of the dust settles on Monday night (usually around midnight eastern time) weekly winners and losers are finally known. Then it all starts again for the next week of play!
Fantasy Football = Fan Engagement + Expansion of Fan Base.
In stark contrast to traditional sports gambling, which has tended to carry with it an unsavory element, the emergence of Fantasy Football as a business has been a boon to the National Football League and broadcasters alike. Regional fans, who generally only had interest in local teams and local players, now rabidly follow the sport on a national basis, as they theoretically want to watch players on every team playing in every game. Casual football fans, who may or may not have tuned in to a weekly game, are now reading Fantasy Football websites and blogs, and listening to and watching topical sports radio and television shows dedicated to Fantasy Football..
Despite this popularity, not everyone is a football fan — and not everyone has the time nor the interest to manage a team or play in a league. But most people do want to be part of the conversation around the watercooler, or the dinner table, or at the local diner. So how do you get knowledgeable enough to enter the conversation without having to watch countless hours of games or pour over pages of player statistics. The surest way would be to ask any 14 year old boy for the lowdown on his team (and then tolerate the eye roll).
Actually though, staying in the loop has never been easier. A quick daily scan of any leading fantasy football news website (examples: Rotoworld, CBS Sports, ESPN, Fantasy Football News), from Tuesday to Friday, will provide the important headlines. Conversations tend to revolve on a weekly basis around players and points scored. Here’s a breakdown of the lingo: Top Performers (who’s been doing the best), Sleepers (those players unexpectedly surpassing expectations), Busts (those players not meeting expectations), and Key Injuries (who’s won’t be able to play). While keeping up in this manner may not turn you into an expert, it will allow you to engage beyond a bewildered fake smile and a nod.
At the end of the day, Fantasy football is a fun way to engage with family, friends, and coworkers – and do so on a level playing field.