When the Tennessee Titans kick-off against the Jacksonville Jaguars for this week’s edition of Thursday Night Football, I’ll be tuning in along with millions of other professional football fans. The game will arguably be one of the least compelling match-ups of the weekend. It will be featuring two teams that have failed to experience recent success and are also from two cities that I don’t have a connection to. I won’t be watching to find out who is going to win…oh no, it’s something of much greater personal importance than that. I’ll be watching to find out how my fantasy football team is performing, with the hope that my team takes a step towards ending a decade long championship drought in my primary fantasy football league.
As the popularity of fantasy sports has grown, the major American Professional sports leagues have embraced them and are actively using fantasy as a promotional tool to grow their leagues and generate increased revenue. There is essentially a “fantasy” version of every sport, but the NFL has likely benefited the most. Some reports estimate that of the 15 billion dollars spent on fantasy sports, 11 billion of that amount was related to fantasy football. The majority of the money doesn’t directly go to the NFL, but the large dollar amount directed towards fantasy football is indicative of the interest and mind-share that fantasy generates for the league.
Most of my attention towards fantasy sports is spent on managing a team in my primary fantasy football league. My friends and I established this league while attending Virginia Tech all the way back in 2002. Back then we were a relatively small 7 team league full of
“sports nerds”. Now the makeup of our league is a bit more mixed, with the core being the same group of us original nerds, along with a group of 5 additional new comers that are a bit more casual. For the new comers, our league is their or second or third “side league”. Part of the reason that I participate in my primary league is to stay in touch with old friends that I’m unable to compete in physical sports anymore because 1.) we’re all grossly out of shape and 2.) most of us live in different regions of the US. I treat my primary league with the care that anyone would if they were in a long term relationship that they valued. My team is carefully managed and I’m always thinking of ways that can improve my team’s chances of winning a championship. I’m optimistic about the world when my team wins and dislike everything about the world when my team loses. Through the years I’ve also joined a few “side leagues” and participated as a more casual participant, but ultimately I found them to be disruptive as any mistress might be towards the stability of a long-term relationship.
Recently, a new category of fantasy sports known as Daily Fantasy Sports, or DFS, has taken hold. Daily Fantasy Sports involve selecting a team that you select for just one day, and then simply discard and walk away once the day’s games conclude. As a result, DFS leagues don’t require a large time commitment or much team management. If being in my primary fantasy football league feels like the equivalent of long-term relationship, then DFS would be a no strings attached one-night stand. This is the fastest growing format, with two companies, Draft Kings and Fan Duel, currently owning the largest market-share. While I participate in my primary league for the intrinsic rewards associated with ruining the days (or weeks) of my best friends, DFS leagues are typically played with strangers that will never interact. Playing DFS can be very exciting while watching the games play out, but like most one-night stands, there is a very good chance that you will be full of regret when you wake up the next day. In fact, only the top 1.3 percent of DFS players will win money over the course of a football season. We all know that the odds are stacked against us but we still play. Currently 29 of the NFL’s 32 teams have promotional agreements with one of the two major DFS company’s.
The NFL knows we love fantasy and have fully taken advantage by not only partnering with Daily Fantasy Sports companies, but also by launching compliments to fantasy football such as the NFL Redzone Channel. The Redzone channel, which only airs content from 12:30 PM – 8:00 PM on Sundays during the NFL’s regular season, shows “every touchdown and every celebration” of the day’s games. Some of my favorite Sunday afternoons have been spent following my fantasy team while listening to NFL Redzone host Scott Hanson guide us through all of the major events of the day as they happen. For this privilege, I pay my cable provider an additional $5.00 a month (about 8% of my cable bill) to have access to NFL Redzone during the football season. My cable bill is high enough as it is, yet I still pay more because I feel need to watch “my players” performances in real-time.
Occasionally I’ll feel guilty about the amount of time and effort that I spend managing my fake football team, but then I daydream about how good it’s going to feel when I finally hoist that imaginary trophy. Kudos to the NFL and other sports leagues for realizing the monetary value associated with demolishing the spirits of your best friends.