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Fantasy Sports Continues to Rise

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Nineteen-year-old Max Hammer sits in front of his television Wednesday night watching the Los Angeles Lakers host the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center. He watches as Clippers’ guard Cuttino Mobley scores five straight points at the beginning of the fourth quarter to give his team the lead with 8:16 remaining, and Hammer cheers in excitement. After all, Mobley was having an all around solid game, chipping in with 11 points, 2 assists and 1 rebound. The sophomore had every reason to be excited.

But, the funny thing is, Hammer isn’t a Clippers’ fan. In fact, he’s a die-hard Lakers’ fan and has rooted against the Clippers as far back as he can remember. However, Hammer did draft Mobley in one of his

Yahoo! Fantasy Sports Roster

Yahoo! Fantasy Sports Roster

fantasy basketball leagues. “That’s why I play fantasy sports,” Hammer says. “because it makes me root for players I would normally not root for. It makes me interested in games I would normally not care about.”

In the end, Hammer won on both fronts as Mobley helped the student’s fantasy team, and the Lakers managed to pull out a big win riding a 22-0 run in the fourth quarter. While some may think it’s unusual for sports fans to root for players on opposing teams, Hammer and millions of other fantasy sports players often do just that. With the rise of the Internet in the 1990s, Ben Klayman writes fantasy sports  – a game where fans draft and manage real athletes on their own unreal teams and play against other teams in their league of the same makeup – became one of the most popular activities in the United States for sports enthusiasts. Fantasy sports was moderately popular in the 1980s but became a sensation when the Internet became a mass commodity in the late ’90s, and Web sites like Yahoo! and ESPN began promoting leagues. Although it began with football, fantasy sports now includes baseball, basketball, hockey, Nascar, fishing, soccer and golf leagues among others.

Currently, nearly 30 million Americans play fantasy sports, and annual revenue is in the range of $800 million to $1 billion, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association – a group of volunteers who speak for the industry. “We’ve seen about a 20 to 25 percent player increase in each of the last five years,” said FSTA president Jeff Thomas. “It’s incredible. It’s such a consistent growth rate. I’ve been in the industry for 15 years, and I’ve seen growth for every year.”

In 1995, FSTA did a research study and discovered the primary three reasons people played fantasy sports. The first one was love of the sport. The second was love of competition. And the third reason was pride. “I think when you combine those three elements, where you can do something along with the sports that you love and compete against your buddies for pride, that combination is very strong, and its evolved over time in many ways into many types of games, products and concepts,” Thomas said. Hammer also believes those three elements are key reason why many people, including himself, spend hours of their week online checking their fantasy teams. “The competitiveness and pride has a lot to do with [why people play],” he

ESPN Fantasy Football Home Page

ESPN Fantasy Football Home Page

said. “Obviously it feels good to beat your close buddies and say you know more about sports than they do.”

While Hammer participates in a custom league against his friends, Thomas explained the evolution of fantasy sports has brought forth many options for players to find and enjoy. “Fantasy sports isn’t just one thing anymore like it used to be,” he said. “There’s private leagues, custom leagues, public leagues. There’s also salary cap leagues, pick ’em style leagues, contests and games of up to 50,000 people playing against each other.”

Fantasy sports has become so popular in the United States that even ESPN, which promotes itself as the worldwide leader in sports, has dedicated part of its Web site, magazine, commercials and segments of television and radio shows to the game. ESPN has hired experts such as John Clayton, Eric Karabell, Matthew Berry and John Hollinger to advise fans on which players to draft, who to play on a given day and how to manage their teams. Additionally, ESPN has even produced commercials promoting its online fantasy sports leagues. Because fantasy sports has become such a phenom in American society, insiders at ESPN felt the need to include it into their repertoire in order to satisfy fans needs.

“From a branding perspective for corporations like ESPN, you have consumers engaged in the fantasy sports world,” Thomas said. “People spend on average four to six hours per week playing fantasy sports. That’s a seriously engaged consumer, and companies are looking to capitalize on that.”

While many may believe fantasy sports is only played by males, a recent study by SportsBuff.com on the effect of fantasy sports participation and the market place shows woman currently make up about 20 to 25 percent of fantasy sports players. However, the main demographic the game appeals to remains males between the ages of 18 and 49.

The game’s strides over the past 20 years have been enormous, and no one can really predict where the future of the game will take players. However, Thomas provided his insight on where he believes the fantasy sports are headed. “As an industry matures, more niche products evolve to support the industry,” he said. “We will continue to see more mobile products and more games on mobile products like PDA’s, Google and iPhones. As technology improves, we’ll have more platforms to play fantasy on and more software to use to our advantage.” That would be good news for fans like Hammer, who long for “more visual drafts with web cams and headsets” and other innovative software.

Although fantasy sports has come a long way in the United States since its early beginnings in the ’80s, Thomas feels the game will continue to spread, but not only in America and Canada. Right now, studies estimate that about five million people play fantasy sports overseas. That’s something Thomas views an an untapped market. “Beyond North America, companies and brands overseas are starting to recognize the power of fantasy sports, and we’ll see a very good pick up of fantasy sports in Europe and Asia over the next five years,” he said.

Despite its rapid breakthrough within the past decade, fantasy sports, as Thomas explains, may have just scratched the surface, and there’s no telling where it will end up in the next 10, 15 or even 20 years.

Fantasy Sports Study 2007

Written by jonhaber

November 7, 2008 at 12:37 am

One Response

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  1. […] Blogger Jon Haber and Sarah Talalay of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel each take a look at the growing fantasy sports […]


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