A fantasy of millions of individuals may be positively affecting job growth. Fantasy football is growing -- nearly 34 million individuals play fantasy sports and 75 percent of them play fantasy football -- and this growth has led to job creation, increased advertisement revenue and more football fans, according to a Kansas State University expert.
Fantasy football is a virtual game in which team "owners" draft professional players to their personalized teams to compete in leagues based on the players' statistics. Kevin Gwinner, professor and head of the university's department of marketing, said the sport began decades ago when teams were drafted on paper.
"I remember having a team as a graduate student," Gwinner said. "Team owners had to wait until Monday morning to get a newspaper and see how their team did. Now, online tools drive these leagues."
This surge in popularity has lead to growth in sectors that are in no way a fantasy. Gwinner said fantasy sports have created an industry that benefits software and guidebook producers and even the nation's employment.
"There's a major side industry," he said. "All the people who run the software behind the leagues aren't just National Football League employees; they also work for Yahoo or a similar platform where these leagues are hosted. The fantasy football industry has spawned a lot of jobs that wouldn't exist without it."
Fantasy football has grown recently not only due to advances in technology, but because this virtual sport allows for expanded fandom. Gwinner said a fan of a professional team that isn't doing well in a particular season tends to lose interest. Fantasy football ensures fans still get enjoyment out of games all season.
"Fantasy football has increased football's fan base," he said. "It takes the focus off the team and puts it on individual players. All of a sudden, it doesn't matter if your local team stinks because you still have something to root for."
The sport's popularity may have psychological ties to gambling, as well. Michael Young, professor and head of the Kansas State University department of psychology, said games with degrees of both uncertainty and skill are often the most addictive.
Those who want to play for fun and not be beat by more skilled players gravitate toward games of pure chance, Young said. When a player can improve, this encourages continued play, like in poker and fantasy football.
"At casinos, the most addictive game is video poker because learning the odds helps you play better," Young said. "However, a game that is purely skill-based -- like chess or basketball -- is often less broadly popular because the minimal role for chance means that a superior player will nearly always beat an inferior player."
Young added that football is typically the most unpredictable sport. The game is complex enough that the superiority of an individual player over another does not guarantee a superior outcome due to the play of the other players on the field, their complex interaction and the plays called by the coaches.
"Although greater football knowledge can help a player improve their fantasy football play, there is always a large degree of uncertainty which gives every participant a chance," Young said.
Franchises also are embracing this new type of football. Recently, Forbes magazine called fantasy football the most important marketing tool in the NFL.
"Fantasy football keeps NFL games in the minds of fans throughout the week, not just Sunday or Monday," Gwinner said. "They're taking it from a two-night event to an entire week."
In addition to increased viewers and fantasy football-focused shows on networks like ESPN, Gwinner said fantasy sports are even more important to individual athletes. Branding plays an important role for many high-profile players, and fantasy football provides another opportunity for these players to connect with their fans.
"When a team doesn't quite make that last touchdown, you'll often hear a player comment on it to his fantasy owners in the postgame interview," Gwinner said. "They're using it to enhance their own reputation and worth. When they look to be traded or increase their salary, they now have that added exposure to use as leverage."
While this benefits players, it may be a drawback for a franchise as it negotiates salaries with a player, Gwinner said. A larger potential drawback could have a much larger dollar amount. Gwinner said one study found that owners managing fantasy teams online amounts to as much as a $6.5 billion workplace productivity loss.
"A person spends maybe an hour a week over 15 weeks managing their team during the workday," Gwinner said. "If you take the millions of fantasy owners and do the math, it starts to add up fast."
Regardless of any potential negatives, Gwinner says he sees fantasy sports continuing to grow at the same pace as technology. He said he envisions even further interaction between players and fantasy team owners.
"The changes will go the way of the technology," he said. "The nature of the game hasn't really changed. It's still about picking players and how those players do on the field determining how your team will do. You don't have to pick up a newspaper anymore."
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