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The perspective on Fantasy Football

By Julian Bonte-Friedheim
 Photo by Dave Adamson on Unsplash
*Updated 2024
Invented in a Manhattan hotel room in 1962, Fantasy Football exploded in popularity when, in 1997, launched its first live version of the game. It has since amassed an estimated 62.5 million players in North America. The popular game allows groups of friends, co-workers and even strangers to compete with each other with virtual squads, which each participant drafts by himself or herself, based on real NFL football teams. The player whose fantasy team racks up the most points by the end of each NFL season ends up on top. This game, which has since traveled across the pond and been converted to a successful fantasy soccer version, can be immensely fun, perhaps even addicting. In fact, some call it a form of gambling, which is disputed by others.
Here are three reasons for and three reasons against the growing trend that is Fantasy Football.


Against Fantasy Football


You’ve already lost

Most people that join Fantasy Football put money in, believing that they have a relatively good chance of winning some more. However, as the virtual game, and in particular its Daily Fantasy version, involve a lot of money, this has attracted “super players” that design their own algorithms – some of which include details like wind and weather conditions – to gain huge advantages by best predicting how NFL games will go. Unlike casual fans, these super players’ main motivation is profit, of which they can make a lot. Some of these individuals have made a career out of playing Fantasy Football. However, in Daily Fantasy Sports, 91% of winnings go to 1.3% of players, which suggests that the majority of regular, non-super players don’t know that the odds of winning are stacked against them. Not to mention that even if you win, a portion of your winnings needs to be set aside for taxes.


It’s very similar to gambling

A big part of the excitement surrounding Fantasy Football is its cash prizes. This is, in part, why the game can be incredibly addictive and can contribute to health declines. Somewhat similar to poker, players succeed through skill and experience. Additionally, they need knowledge of the NFL and its players to win monetary rewards. Many players sink hours into setting up their fantasy teams and perfecting their virtual lineups. Some players have gotten so drawn into betting, they have acquired tens of thousands of dollars of debt. Daily Fantasy Sports companies have done the most to get players to spend more, earning more than $3 billion in entry fees. Today, the industry is worth more than $9.8 billion. Incredibly profitable, only the law separates Fantasy Football from gambling.


It ruins the true football experience

For many, watching professional football is about sticking with your team and sharing that love for them with fellow devoted fans. In contrast, Fantasy Football is all about individual players, completely irrespective of what team they play for. Fantasy Football has split NFL fans’ loyalties, thus diminishing the spirit of professional football. For instance, Fantasy Football players can find themselves rooting against the actual NFL teams they previously supported if one of their fantasy draft players is on the opposing side during a real game.

Some even draw links between the rise of Fantasy Football and falling NFL stadium attendances. Many prefer to stay glued to their phones, monitoring every point their fantasy team scores, rather than enjoying the actual, professional sport for what it is. The fantasy game has made many fans far less interested in the live football experience.


Fantasy Football is a one-of-a-kind experience


Creating social bonds

The Fantasy Football experience is one shared with friends or co-workers, male and female alike. As popularized in the FX series The League, it’s a great way for old companions to stay in contact with each other. In fact, many Americans remain in touch, no matter the geographical distances, to compete with one another in Fantasy Football, to communicate their draft picks, to offer trades or just to trash talk. New friends have also been made through this game, as it’s a very bonding experience that lasts throughout the entire NFL season. It even boosts comradery – and therefore productivity – at work. Companies have found that employees who played Fantasy Football with their coworkers were 12% more engaged at work than those who played with non-colleagues.


It enhances the football experience

Watching professional football is fun, but like any sport, fans may feel removed from the game. Fantasy Football breaks that barrier, as it is highly immersive, allowing players to feel like general managers. Unlike fans of the real game, who may feel frustrated with the inability to impact their beloved teams’ results, Fantasy Football players can shape their own team roster, thereby actively influencing the virtual game’s outcomes. In fact, the Fantasy Football draft is one of the most exciting parts of the game, allowing people to mold their own teams. As Fantasy Football players follow individual actual players across all teams, they learn to see the NFL in a more expansive way, appreciating many teams’ talented players instead of just their favorite team. Fantasy Football players, including women, who represent the fastest-growing segment of fantasy sports, attest to its quality as an interactive game that enhances fans’ interest in the NFL.


Acquiring business and math skills

Playing Fantasy Football involves scouring through vast amounts of information to set up the perfect virtual team with the right fantasy players in every position. Students that played Fantasy Football were observed to perform better in math-related tasks. Another significant part of the game involves recognizing talent and being able to out-negotiate fellow competitors during fantasy player exchanges. Many fans learn to set up their own spreadsheets, a skill that is highly valuable in the workplace. In fact, the competitive nature, analysis and information-processing it takes to do well at Fantasy Football can be  solid preparation for many tasks in the workplace. Not to mention, Silicon Valley investors have been paying attention to entrepreneurs who have developed a number of fantasy league apps over the years.


The Bottom Line: Fantasy Football is amazing because it’s so immersive and fun to play. Few other games can be so engaging or social. However, this can be a double-edged sword. Disputably a form of gambling, it can also cause serious addiction and may drive people into debt. Given its ups and downs, what is your take on it?

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