The 21st century has produced many advances in the National Football League. From constant rule tweaks to expanding instant replay, the sport is adapting to our modern world’s technological advancements. But perhaps the most exciting advancement for fans is the introduction of fantasy football.
Fantasy football was introduced to the web by CBS in 1997 – turning real life NFL players into virtual game pieces and the player himself into a “general manager.”
I love fantasy football and play it every season. It’s a way for football fans to totally immerse themselves in the sport on any given Sunday and can make any game exciting regardless of the score. At the same time, I recognize that it has some negative impacts on the sport itself.
As a yearly participant in fantasy football leagues, I have seen it affect my interest in the league and loyalty to my favorite team, the New England Patriots.
A few Sundays ago, I found myself in a fantasy match-up against a team tied with me for third place. It was a big game for me, considering the whopping $225 dollars that are at stake. Although my beloved Patriots were playing that day, I found myself more engrossed in the stats of players on my fantasy team, taking my attention away from the only NFL team I actually support. At times, I even found myself rooting against Patriots players who were slotted into the starting lineup of the team I was up against. The problem is, fantasy football can create a paradox for true fans; they may want their team to win, but that could affect their payday.
ESPN, the self-proclaimed “worldwide leader in sports” has been sacrificing much of its NFL game and news coverage for fantasy guru Matthew Berry’s “The Fantasy Show.” Now, I don’t know if there is a science behind fantasy football, but if there is, Berry has yet to discover it. As much as I love to play and manage my own virtual team, it’s honestly a crapshoot. To hire someone to sit on TV and provide his “expert opinion” on something that merits no coverage or “expertise” at all makes no sense to me.
Basically, it’s a computerized game not based on reality: the scores are based on reality, right? But on the varied scoring systems of fantasy football that, at least in my eyes, has superseded the passion and loyalty of NFL fans in recent years.
On the other side of the coin, these affects can be seen in a more positive light.
For one, it can encourage fans to view the games of teams that aren’t their own. As a result, fans can watch and learn more about the sport and players they may not have had the chance of seeing if it wasn’t for their tie to fantasy football, all the while simultaneously increasing viewership.
It can also be used as a mechanism to create more fans of the league altogether. With the growth of the legal sports-betting industry, the introduction of sites like Draft Kings and Fan Duel and the proposed bill to legalize sports betting in New York State, sports fans everywhere are going to be gambling more and more. This can bode well for fantasy football and in turn, the NFL as a whole. While it may shift values from fandom to yearning a pay day, the mere fact that this NFL-based game can potentially make fans money is more than enough reason for new fans to continue paying attention.
Just like Matthew Berry’s weekly “Love/Hate” lists, fantasy football is here to stay whether you like it or not. In fact, it’s only getting bigger and will continue to impact the sport and its dedicated fans in the coming years.